Daily: 14/03/2018

Trump Picks Conservative Economist as New White House Adviser

U.S. President Donald Trump is naming Larry Kudlow, a longtime conservative economic analyst and television business show commentator, as his new top White House economic adviser.

The 70-year-old Kudlow told news media he accepted Trump’s offer Wednesday to become director of the White House’s National Economic Council. Reports say a formal announcement could come Thursday.

He will replace former Wall Street financier Gary Cohn, who resigned last week after breaking with President Trump on trade policy. Cohn had lost an internal debate, among Trump advisers, aimed at convincing the president not to impose steep new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

 

Kudlow, who was an informal economic adviser to Trump during the first year of his presidency, also opposed Trump’s imposition of the 25 percent levy on steel and 10 percent tax on aluminum. Kudlow, however, was also an adviser to Trump during his successful 2016 White House run and worked with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in designing the tax cut plan Trump pushed through Congress in December.

Kudlow worked decades ago in the White House of President Ronald Reagan, but has spent much of the time since then as a television show host, much like Trump, who served as executive producer of The Apprentice reality television show before turning to politics.

One of Kudlow’s first White House efforts is likely to involve the ongoing renegotiation of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, the U.S. pact with Canada and Mexico.

Kudlow has said that it would be a “calamitously bad decision” to end the accord, but Trump has said NAFTA has left the United States at a disadvantage in trade deals with the two countries. The president has said he wants better terms for American farmers in their exports to Canada and wants Mexico to step up its border security at the U.S. line to keep undocumented immigrants from crossing into the United States.

 

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France to Fine Google, Apple Amid Broader Transatlantic Spat

France added more kindling to a growing commercial dispute between Europe and the United States, announcing Wednesday it would sue American tech giants Google and Apple over allegedly abusive business practices.

After peanut butter, cranberries and bourbon, Google and Apple are the latest American icons in Europe’s crosshairs. Speaking to French radio Wednesday, French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire accused the two U.S. companies of unilaterally imposing prices and other terms on French startups.

Google and Apple may be powerful, Le Maire said, but they should not be able to treat French startups and developers the way they currently do.

France has taken legal action against the companies before. But this latest dispute comes amid a potential trade war, as Washington prepares to slap tariffs against steel and aluminum imports.

The European Union has vowed countermeasures on products such as peanut butter if the bloc is not exempted from the U.S. measures, which may take effect next week. But European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told the EU Parliament Wednesday she hopes that will not happen.

“As long as the measures have not entered into force, we hope to avoid a significant trade dispute,” she said. “The root problem, as many of you have said, is overcapacity in steel and aluminum sectors.”

Malmstrom said the European Union and the United States should instead work together to end unfair subsidies by some countries and level the trading field.

France has a mixed relationship with U.S. internet companies — both encouraging them to invest here, but also to pay more EU taxes — as it tries to build its home-grown industry.

Last year, it also threatened fines against Amazon for allegedly abusing its dominant position with suppliers. French justice has yet to rule on the case.

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US Republican Senator Paul Opposes Pompeo, Haspel Nominations

Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul said on Wednesday he would oppose President Donald Trump’s nomination of CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be secretary of state and CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel to become the new director of the CIA.

Paul also said he would “do everything I can” to block them.

Haspel has faced strong criticism for overseeing a secret Central Intelligence Agency prison where detainees were tortured in the years following the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I find it just amazing that anyone would consider having this woman at the head of the CIA. My opposition to her is over her direct participation in interrogation and her gleeful enjoyment at the suffering of someone who was being tortured,” Paul told a news conference.

Pompeo, a former Republican member of the House of Representatives, was confirmed as CIA director with the support of two-thirds of the Senate last year. Many legislators have said they are happy with his workat the agency, and expect he will be confirmed as the United States’ top diplomat.

Paul is the first Republican to come out against the nominations, which Trump announced on Tuesday. He was the only Republican who voted last year against Pompeo’s nomination to be CIA director.

Another Republican senator, John McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, also had questions about Haspel, but did not say he would oppose her. McCain has not been in Washington to vote this year as he undergoes cancer treatment at home in Arizona.

Haspel is respected for her work in the clandestine service and held in high regard at the CIA. Early indications are that, if her hearing goes well, she would be supported by at least enough moderate Democrats to be confirmed.

An intelligence officer who worked with Haspel denied she was anything like a “gleeful participant,” saying, “That makes it sound like she was holding the bucket and laughing, when all she was was a bureaucrat following orders.”

A CIA spokesman said the agency was aware of Paul’s statement and had no immediate comment.

Trump’s fellow Republicans have a 51-49 majority in the Senate, so it would take little Republican dissent to block a nomination, but only if all Democrats vote no.

Paul could make the process difficult particularly for Pompeo. He is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will hold Pompeo’s confirmation hearing and vote on whether to report his nomination favorably to the full Senate.

His opposition could keep the committee from doing so, if every Democrat also opposed the nominee, although the Senate’s Republican leaders could hold a vote anyway.

Committee Democrats said it was too early to say how they would vote.

Senate Republicans said they expect both confirmation hearings to be held soon. Pompeo’s is expected in April.

Every Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel voted against Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, in January 2017, but the panel advanced his nomination by an 11-10 vote because every Republican, including Paul, backed him.

 

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Britain to Brief UN Security Council on Spy Poisoning Probe

Britain will brief members of the U.N. Security Council Wednesday on an alleged chemical weapons attack on an ex-Russian spy and his daughter in the city of Salisbury on March 4.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were found unconscious on a park bench and rushed to the hospital, where they remain in critical condition. Several other individuals were sickened.

The British Foreign Office said it has called for the “urgent meeting” of the Security Council to update members on the investigation into the nerve agent attack.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has said it is “highly likely” that Russia is responsible for the attack and she announced several reprisals, including the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from Britain.

Russia is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the accusations as part of a “Russophobic campaign.”

In a letter dated March 13 to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres seen by VOA, the British prime minister said there are only two possible scenarios: “Either the Russian state has attempted murder on British soil using a chemical weapon, or Russia has lost control of its stockpile of nerve agents.”

May, who also sent the letter to the president of the U.N. Security Council, goes on to say that, “No country except Russia has the combined capability in chemical warfare, intent to weaponize this agent, and motive to target the principal victim.”

British officials say the chemical nerve agent used in the attack is known as Novichok, which was developed by the Soviet Union and inherited by Russia.

“The use of nerve agents under any circumstances is unacceptable and its use by a state would constitute a serious violation of international law,” said a spokesman for the U.N. chief. “While the secretary-general is not in a position to attribute responsibility, he strongly condemns the use of any nerve agent or chemical weapons and hopes the incident will be thoroughly investigated.”

The British prime minister also demands in her letter that Moscow immediately provide “full and complete disclosure of the Novichok program” to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) monitoring group.

She said the attack is a crime and a challenge to the rules-based international order and must be addressed with the support of the international community.

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Суд у Криму на 2 місяці скоротив ув’язнення українського активіста Балуха

Підконтрольний Кремлю Верховний суд Криму 14 березня змінив вирок українському активісту Володимиру Балуху, повідомляє Крим.Реалії. Суддя Тимур Слезко вилучив з обвинувачення пункт про придбання боєприпасів, і покарання скоротили на два місяці – до 3 років і 5 місяців позбавлення свободи в колонії-поселенні.

У січні 2018 року підконтрольний Кремлю Роздольненський районний суд засудив українського активіста Володимира Балуха, обвинуваченого в зберіганні боєприпасів, до трьох років і семи місяців колонії-поселення і штрафу в розмірі 10 тисяч рублів (близько 4,6 тисячі гривень).

ФСБ Росії затримала Володимира Балуха 8 грудня 2016 року. Співробітники ФСБ стверджували, що знайшли на горищі будинку, де живе Балух, 90 патронів і кілька тротилових шашок.

Роздольненський районний суд 1 грудня змінив запобіжний захід українському активісту на домашній арешт упродовж двох місяців.

Захист Балуха і правозахисники вважають, що він став жертвою репресій за свою проукраїнську позицію – через прапор України, який був на подвір’ї його будинку.

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МЗС Росії: заходи у відповідь на дії Британії «не змусять себе чекати»

Міністерство закордонних справ Росії розкритикувало заяву прем’єра Великої Британії Терезу Мей щодо заходів проти Москви через отруєння в британському Солсбері колишнього російського шпигуна Сергія Скрипаля і його дочки Юлії і заявило про підготовку заходів у відповідь.

«Замість того, щоб завершити власне розслідування, задіяти встановлені міжнародні формати й інструменти, в тому числі в рамках Організації із заборони хімічної зброї, до чого ми були готові, британський уряд зробив вибір на користь конфронтації з Росією. Очевидно, що пішовши на односторонні і нетранспарентні методи розслідування цього інциденту, британська влада в черговий раз спробувала розв’язати огульну антиросійську кампанію. Зрозуміло, наші заходи не змусять себе чекати», – йдеться в заяві МЗС Росії.

У російському відомстві додали, що кроки британської влади розцінюють як «безпрецедентно грубу провокацію», яка підриває основи нормального міждержавного діалогу між країнами.

У виступі перед парламентом 14 березня прем’єр-міністр Великої Британії Тереза Мей заявила, що реакція російської влади на отруєння в британському Солсбері колишнього російського шпигуна Сергія Скрипаля і його дочки засвідчує відповідальність Москви за цей напад.

Вона наголосила, що у випадку отруєння Скрипаля йдеться про те, що «Росія незаконно застосувала хімічну зброю», яка була незаконно виготовлена, незважаючи на те, що Росія бере участь в Конвенції із заборони хімічної зброї.

Мей також заявила, що питання про те, знищила Росія свою хімічну зброю, буде поставлене на засіданні Ради безпеки ООН.

Британський прем’єр додала, що Лондон вишле з країни 23 російських дипломатів, яких підозрюють в роботі на російські спецслужби. Крім того, британські офіційні особи не будуть присутні в Росії на чемпіонаті світу з футболу і Лондон обмежить контакти на вищому рівні з Москвою.

«Ми будемо заморожувати російські державні активи всюди, де у нас є докази того, що вони можуть бути використані для загрози життю або майну громадян або жителів Великої Британії», – заявила Мей.

Прем’єр-міністр також попередила про посилення перевірок російських громадян і приватних літаків на кордонах.

Мей виступила з відповідною заявою після того, як Москва відмовилася на вимогу Лондона дати пояснення, як нервово-паралітична речовина «Новичок», розроблена в Росії, потрапила на територію Британію, і звинуватила Британію в «антиросійській істерії». Британські слідчі дійшли висновку, що саме цією речовиною були отруєні Скрипаль і його дочка.

Їх виявили 4 березня непритомними на лавці в парку міста Солсбері на півдні країни. 66-річний Сергій Скрипаль і його 33-річна дочка Юлія перебувають у лікарні в «критичному, але стабільному» стані. Також у серйозному стані перебуває працівник поліції, який першим намагався надати їм допомогу.

 

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EU Urges Trump to Maintain Ties, Not Wage War Over Tariffs

European Union leader Donald Tusk has called on U.S. President Donald Trump to maintain longstanding trans-Atlantic relations that have been increasingly strained since Trump announced stiff trade tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

“Instead of risking a trade war, which he seems eager to wage, we should be aiming for greater cooperation,” Tusk said at a news conference Wednesday in Helsinki, Finland.

Trump, however, has continued to defy protests both from abroad and within his own Republican Party, tweeting Wednesday, “We cannot keep a blind eye to the rampant unfair trade practices against our Country!”

Trump has maintained the tariffs are necessary to protect U.S. security, but E.U. Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said Trump’s assertion is simply a ploy.

“We suspect that the U.S. move is effectively not based on security considerations but an economic safeguard measure in disguise,” said Malmstrom.

Malmstrom told the EU parliament the 28-nation bloc would develop countermeasures targeting U.S. goods, while continuing to pursue an exemption from Trump’s tariffs that could take effect next week.

Mistrust between the U.S. and its long-time European allies has escalated since Trump was elected president in 2016, with the tariff announcement being the latest point of friction.

 

Tusk said there was still time to improve relations and urged Trump to deliver on his promise to exempt “real friends” from the tariffs.

 

Instead of threatening a trade war, Tusk called on Trump to resume U.S.-EU talks which began under former President Barack Obama but were never finished.

 

“Make trade, not war, Mr President,” Tusk said in comments posted on Twitter.

The EU says in place of tariffs, the U.S. should try to reduce a surplus of steel and aluminum on global markets, which experts says is primarily due to China’s overproduction in recent years.

In a VOA interview broadcast Wednesday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said a major reason for Europe’s opposition is that “… they too are being dumped on by China and other places. And they’re afraid if we build an effective wall against China, they’ll be subjected to more dumping.”

Dumping refers to the practice of exporting products to other countries at very low or below market prices.

 

 

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Former Equifax Executive Charged With Insider Trading

Insider trading charges were announced Wednesday against a former Equifax executive who sold his shares for nearly $1 million before the company’s massive data breach was revealed to the public and the stock price plunged.

A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted Jun Ying, 42, the former chief information officer of Equifax’s U.S. Information Solutions, part of the Atlanta-based credit reporting company. The Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday also charged Ying with insider trading.

It was not immediately clear whether Ying had an attorney who could comment on the charges.

The SEC and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta said federal investigations are ongoing. Ying is the only former Equifax executive named in Tuesday’s indictment.

Equifax Chief Financial Officer John Gamble and three other executives sold shares worth a combined $1.8 million days after Equifax discovered suspicious activity on its network – and nearly a month before Ying sold his shares – but Equifax said an independent committee determined that these other executives did not know of the breach when their trades were made.

A total of about 147.9 million Americans have been impacted by Equifax’s data breach, which remains the largest exposure of personal information in history. It was disclosed to the public on Sept. 7.

The SEC noted that at the time of the breach, Ying was often entrusted with nonpublic company information and was a leading candidate to become the global CIO of Equifax, a job he was in fact offered on Sept. 15, the same day the company announced CIO Dave Webb would retire.

Federal authorities say Equifax discovered the suspicious activity on its network on July 29. In mid-August, the company changed administrative credentials for many of its internal databases. Ying was aware of these changes, and employees who reported to him were responsible for some of them. On Aug. 25, Ying along with several employees who reported to him were asked to help respond, although he was told then that the work involved a potential Equifax customer, not Equifax itself, the indictment says.

Ying sent text messages to a co-worker saying, “Sounds bad. We may be the one breached,” and “I’m starting to put 2 and 2 together,” the indictment says.

Three days later, Ying used his Equifax computer to do internet searches on the effect on the Experian stock price of a 2015 breach at that credit reporting company. Later that morning, on Aug. 28, he exercised all his available stock options and received 6,815 shares of Equifax stock, which he sold for more than $950,000. That represented a gain of more than $480,000, prosecutors said.

The SEC complaint says Ying worked at Equifax until October.

“Upon learning about Mr. Ying’s August sale of Equifax shares, we launched a review of his trading activity, concluded he violated our company’s trading policies, separated him from the company and reported our findings to government authorities,” Equifax said in an emailed statement. “We are fully cooperating with the DOJ and the SEC, and will continue to do so.”

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Iran Signs $740 Million Agreement on Oil Project

Iran’s state-run oil company has signed a $740 million agreement with a Russian-Iranian consortium to develop two oil fields near the Iraqi border.

Under the agreement signed Wednesday, there will be a 48,000-barrel daily production of crude for a 10-year span in oil fields in Aban and West Paidar in the southwest near the border with Iraq. Iran currently produces 36,000 barrels of crude in both fields.

The consortium includes the Russian state-controlled Zarubezhneft Oil Co. and the Iranian private Dana Energy Co.

This is the second energy contract with foreign companies following the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Last year, Iran signed a $5 billion agreement with France’s Total SA and a Chinese oil company to develop its massive offshore natural gas field.

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Візит Путіна до Криму є порушенням суверенітету України – МЗС

Міністерство закордонних справ України висловило 14 березня протест у зв’язку із черговим неузгодженим з Україною візитом російської делегації на чолі з президентом Володимиром Путіним до окупованого Криму.

«Україна вважає згаданий візит, як і інші так звані «поїздки» російських посадовців до тимчасово окупованих Автономної Республіки Крим та міста Севастополь, грубим порушенням державного суверенітету і територіальної цілісності України, цинічним і демонстративним нехтуванням російською стороною загальновизнаними нормами міжнародного права, зобов’язаннями за двосторонніми і багатосторонніми договорами, сторонами яких є Україна і Росія», – сказано в заяві.

Президент Росії Володимир Путін 14 березня відвідує із «робочою поїздкою» окупований український Крим. За інформацією прес-служби Кремля, Путін відвідав будівництво Керченського мосту, новий аеровокзальний комплекс аеропорту «Сімферополь» і візьме участь у мітингу-концерті в Севастополі.

Минулого разу Путін відвідував Крим в листопаді 2017 року. Тоді він взяв участь у відкритті пам’ятника російському цареві Олександру III на території Лівадійського палацу в Ялті.

Президент України Петро Порошенко назвав «небезпечною провокацією» візит Путіна до Криму.

Вибори президента Росії планують провести 18 березня 2018 року, спеціально перенісши закріплену в законодавстві дату на день четвертої річницю анексії Криму.

1 березня Верховна Рада закликала Раду безпеки і Генасамблею ООН, ОБСЄ, Європейський союз, НАТО, міжнародні організації, іноземні парламенти і уряди не визнавати легітимність російських виборів у Криму.

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У Росії назвали «провокацією» дії британської влади у справі Скрипаля

Спікер Ради федерації Росії, верхньої палати парламенту, Валентина Матвієнко назвала «провокацією» заходи, до яких вирішила вдатися влада Великої Британії у справі про отруєння колишнього російського шпигуна Сергія Скрипаля і його дочки Юлії.

Реагуючи на виступ британського прем’єра Терези Мей 14 березня Матвієнко заявила, що Росія має відреагувати «дуже жорстко і дзеркально».

«Британці без пред’явлення Росії будь-яких доказів призначили винною Росію. Це безпрецедентно. Я думаю, що дипломатична практика не знає подібних прикладів. Тому ми, Росія, повинні відреагувати дуже оперативно, дуже жорстко і дзеркально», – цитують Матвієнко російські державні агенції.

Посол Росії в Лондоні Олександр Яковенко заявив, що дії Британії у зв’язку зі «справою Скрипаля» неприйнятні. «У мене тільки що була зустріч у Форін офісі (МЗС Британії – ред.). Я сказав, що все, що зробив сьогодні британський уряд, абсолютно неприйнятне. Ми розглядаємо це як провокацію», – сказав Яковенко в ефірі телеканалу Sky News.

Голова комітету Держдуми Росії з міжнародних справ Леонід Слуцький назвав висилку російських дипломатів з Британії «провокацією перед виборами» президента в Росії, які відбудуться 18 березня.

Президент Росії Володимир Путін, який перебуває в анексованому Криму, чи його речник ситуацію поки що не коментували.

У виступі перед парламентом 14 березня прем’єр-міністр Великої Британії Тереза Мей заявила, що реакція російської влади на отруєння в британському Солсбері колишнього російського шпигуна Сергія Скрипаля і його дочки засвідчує відповідальність Москви за цей напад.

Вона наголосила, що у випадку отруєння Скрипаля йдеться про те, що «Росія незаконно застосувала хімічну зброю», яка була незаконно виготовлена, незважаючи на те, що Росія бере участь в Конвенції із заборони хімічної зброї.

Мей також заявила, що питання про те, знищила Росія свою хімічну зброю, буде поставлене на засіданні Ради безпеки ООН.

Британський прем’єр додала, що Лондон вишле з країни 23 російських дипломатів, яких підозрюють в роботі на російські спецслужби. Крім того, британські офіційні особи не будуть присутні в Росії на чемпіонаті світу з футболу і Лондон обмежить контакти на вищому рівні з Москвою.

«Ми будемо заморожувати російські державні активи всюди, де у нас є докази того, що вони можуть бути використані для загрози життю або майну громадян або жителів Великої Британії», – заявила Мей.

Прем’єр-міністр також попередила про посилення перевірок російських громадян і приватних літаків на кордонах.

Мей виступила з відповідною заявою після того, як Москва відмовилася на вимогу Лондона дати пояснення, як нервово-паралітична речовина «Новичок», розроблена в Росії, потрапила на територію Британію, і звинуватила Британію в «антиросійській істерії». Британські слідчі дійшли висновку, що саме цією речовиною були отруєні Скрипаль і його дочка.

Їх виявили 4 березня непритомними на лавці в парку міста Солсбері на півдні країни. 66-річний Сергій Скрипаль і його 33-річна дочка Юлія перебувають у лікарні в «критичному, але стабільному» стані. Також у серйозному стані перебуває працівник поліції, який першим намагався надати їм допомогу.

 

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Behind the Broadcom Deal Block: Rising Telecom Tensions

Behind the U.S. move to block Singapore-based Broadcom’s hostile bid for U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm lies a new global struggle for influence over next-generation communications technology — and fears that whoever takes the lead could exploit that advantage for economic gain, theft and espionage.

In the Broadcom-Qualcomm deal, the focus is on so-called “5G” wireless technology, which promises data speeds that rival those of landline broadband now. Its proponents insist that 5G, the next step up from the “4G” networks that now serve most smartphones, will become a critical part of the infrastructure powering everything from self-driving cars to the connected home.

5G remains in the early stages of development. Companies including Qualcomm, based in San Diego, and China’s Huawei have been investing heavily to stake their claim in the underlying technology. Such beachheads can be enormously valuable; control over basic technologies and their patents can yield huge fortunes in computer chips, software and related equipment.

“These transitions come along almost every decade or so,” said Jon Erensen, research director for semiconductors at research firm Gartner. “The government is being very careful to ensure the U.S. keeps its leadership role developing these standards.”

President Donald Trump said late Monday that a takeover of Qualcomm would imperil national security, effectively ending Broadcom’s $117 billion buyout bid. Broadcom said that it is studying the order and that it doesn’t believe it poses any national security threat to the U.S.

Higher stakes

It’s the second recent U.S. warning shot across the bow of foreign telecom makers. At a Senate Intelligence Committee meeting in February, FBI Director Christopher Wray said any company “beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values” should not be able to “gain positions of power” inside U.S. telecommunications networks.

“That provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure, it provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information and it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage,” he said.

Lawmakers in the U.S. House introduced a bill on Jan. 9 that would prohibit government purchases of telecoms equipment from Huawei Technologies and smaller rival ZTE, citing their ties to the Chinese military and backing from the ruling Communist Party. A few years earlier, a congressional panel recommended phone carriers avoid doing business with Huawei or ZTE.

The stakes are even higher in the 5G race. “Qualcomm/Broadcom is like the Fort Sumter of this technology battle,” said GBH Insights analyst Dan Ives, referring to the battle that kicked off the Civil War.

Although its name isn’t widely known outside the technology industry, San Diego-based Qualcomm is one of the world’s leading makers of the processors that power many smartphones and other mobile devices. Qualcomm also owns patents on key pieces of mobile technology that Apple and other manufacturers use in their products.

Compared to earlier generations of wireless technology, “we’re seeing China emerge and start to play a bigger role in the standards developing process,” Erensen said. Given a wave of consolidation in the telecom-equipment industry, fewer companies are involved “and the stakes are bigger,” he said.

National security

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which reviews the national security implications of foreign investments in U.S. companies, cited concerns about Broadcom’s penchant for cutting costs such as research spending. That could lead to Qualcomm losing its leadership in telecom standards, the committee wrote in a letter earlier in March.

Should that happen, Chinese companies such as Huawei, which the CFIUS has previously expressed concerns about, could take a larger, or even a dominant, role in setting 5G technology and standards and practices. That’s where national security concerns come in.

“Over time, that would mean U.S. government and U.S. technology companies could lose a trusted U.S. supplier that does not present the same national security counterintelligence risk that a Chinese supplier does,” said Brian Fleming, an attorney at Miller & Chevalier and former counsel at the Justice Department’s national security division.

Blocking the deal doesn’t eliminate Chinese influence on 5G development, of course. But it might slow it down, Fleming said: “They honestly believe they are helping to protect national security by doing this.”

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Trump Considers Ousting His VA Secretary in Cabinet Shuffle

President Donald Trump is considering ousting embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who has faced an insurgency within his department and fresh allegations that he used a member of his security detail to run personal errands.

Trump has floated the notion of moving Energy Secretary Rick Perry to the VA to right the ship, believing Shulkin has become a distraction, according to two sources familiar with White House discussions. The sources were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.

 

Shulkin has faced several investigations over his travel and leadership of the department, but until now has received praise from the president for his work to turn it around. The news comes after Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Tuesday.

 

Trump raised the idea with Perry on Monday but did not offer the job to him, according to one White House official. Trump has been angry with Shulkin, the official said, but is known to float staffing changes without always following through.

 

Shulkin did not respond to requests for comment via phone and text message. He has been holding on to his job by a thread since a bruising internal report found ethics violations in connection with his trip to Europe with his wife last summer. A spokeswoman for Perry also had no comment.

 

The VA inspector general also is looking into a complaint by a member of Shulkin’s 24-7 security detail that he was asked to accompany the secretary to a Home Depot and carry furniture items into his home, according to two people familiar with the allegation who requested anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

 

Within the agency, a political adviser installed by Trump has openly mused to other VA staff about ousting the former Obama administration official. And a top communications aide has taken extended leave following a secret, failed attempt to turn lawmakers against him.

 

“The honeymoon is ending with a crash that hurts veterans most of all,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, who has been a close observer of VA for more than a decade. “VA always has bad news, but Shulkin’s ethical and leadership failures are still significant — despite any internal attacks.”

 

Senior administration officials describe a growing frustration that Shulkin repeatedly ignores their advice, only to beg for their help when he runs into ethical trouble. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to describe sensitive internal discussions, say Shulkin has been given a final warning to end the swirl of distractions. The administration is currently seeking to push Trump’s agenda of aggressively expanding the Veterans Choice program, which major veterans groups worry could be an unwanted step toward privatizing VA health care.

 

The issue came to the fore at a White House meeting last week, when chief of staff John Kelly told Shulkin to stop talking to the news media without clearing it first with the White House and to stay focused on fixing veterans care.

 

Shulkin was escorted from that meeting to the Oval Office, where Trump questioned him about his efforts to push the Choice expansion, which lawmakers are now seeking to include in a massive spending bill that must be approved by next week to avert a government shutdown.

 

With Shulkin present, the president telephoned conservative Pete Hegseth, a “Fox & Friends” contributor who was vetted in late 2016 for VA secretary, to get his views on how to proceed with the expansion. Hegseth, a former president of the conservative group Concerned Veterans for America, declined to comment for this article.

 

Dan Caldwell, executive director of CVA, lauded the White House focus on Choice amid the ongoing controversies involving Shulkin. “Despite the internal drama going on in the VA, which has been a distraction, Congress has continued to work to a solution that everyone can rally around,” he said.

 

Shulkin is blaming the internal drama on a half-dozen or so political appointees whom he had considered firing, only to be blocked by Kelly.

 

“I regret anything that has distracted us from what we should be focusing on, which is serving veterans,” Shulkin told the AP shortly before release of an inspector general report that faulted the VA for “failed leadership” and an unwillingness or inability of leaders to take responsibility for accounting problems at a major VA hospital that put patients at risk.

 

It wasn’t always this way.

 

Early in the administration, Shulkin was often seen at Trump’s side, waving to crowds at campaign-style events in Pennsylvania or addressing reporters in a doctor’s lab coat as he tutored Trump on telehealth. Trump called him the “100-to-nothing man” — a reference to his unanimous Senate confirmation vote — and publicly teased that he probably would never be fired because he had successfully shepherded legislation to improve accountability at the VA and speed disability appeals.

 

By December, relations at the VA between Shulkin and several political appointees began to fray over philosophical differences.

 

In a Dec. 4 internal email obtained by the AP, Jake Leinenkugel, a senior aide installed as part of a Cabinet-wide program to monitor secretaries’ loyalty, said Shulkin was becoming increasingly distrustful and regarded Camilo Sandoval, a senior adviser in VA’s health arm, as a White House “spy.”

 

The email to Sandoval alluded to White House efforts to gain more control, including ousting Shulkin’s chief of staff, and said the secretary had been “put on notice to exit” once the administration gets the Choice legislation through Congress.

 

There were other signs.

 

At a Jan. 17 hearing, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., openly blamed the deadlock over Choice to Shulkin’s ever-shifting positions. “I am of the opinion that our inability to reach an agreement is in significant part related to your ability to speak out of both sides of your mouth, double-talk,” Moran said. A grim Shulkin denied the accusation, but the White House was later forced to clarify its position on the bill due to lawmaker confusion.

 

Last month, the inspector general released a blistering report finding ethical violations in Shulkin’s trip last July to Denmark and England that mixed business with pleasure. The IG found that Shulkin’s chief of staff Vivieca Wright Simpson had doctored emails to justify his wife accompanying him at taxpayer expense. Wright Simpson retired after the report was issued.

 

Seizing on the report, John Ullyot, a top communications aide, and VA spokesman Curt Cashour told the Republican staff director of the House Veterans Affairs Committee that Shulkin would be out by that weekend and asked if Republicans would push for his removal.

 

The staff director, John Towers, told Ullyot “no,” and made clear that committee Chairman Phil Roe had expressed support for Shulkin, according to a House aide familiar with the phone conversation. That aide also requested anonymity in order to discuss a sensitive internal matter. In a statement, Cashour and Ullyot deny that account, saying the call was intended instead to warn the committee that some of Shulkin’s denials of wrongdoing were unfounded.

 

Asked this week about Ullyot’s current leave of absence, Cashour released a statement saying, “there are no personnel changes to announce at the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

 

For now, Shulkin appears to be hanging on. At a Cabinet meeting last Thursday, Shulkin took a different seat reserved for him — next to the president.

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Hungary: Orban Backers Staging Pre-election ‘Peace March’

Organizers of a “Peace March” supporting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Tuesday they expect as many as 200,000 people to attend the event, set to take place three weeks before Hungary’s April 8 national election.

Leaders of the Civil Union Forum said the ruling Fidesz party is supporting Thursday’s march to parliament, where Orban will speak on a holiday commemorating the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.

Organizer Andras Bencsik said the march in Budapest is meant to provide “an impulse” for a successful election, “so we can help Fidesz.”

“We have to take this election very seriously — life or death is practically at stake,” Bencsik, chief editor of the Demokrata weekly magazine, said. 

Opposition groups plan several demonstrations across the city, with the two largest expected to be a student-led protest outside the State Opera House and a Peace March for supporters of the opposition announced by the satirical Two-Tailed Dog Party.

The Two-Tailed Dog Party has been around for over a decade and conducted several popular campaigns mocking Orban’s policies. It is fielding candidates for the first time in next month’s election. 

Orban, a populist criticized for centralizing power and weakening democratic checks and balances, is seeking a third consecutive term. He and other Fidesz candidates have not participated in debates and most of Orban’s campaign stops have not been shared with the news media.

Orban has made immigration his main campaign theme. He opposes mass immigration, especially by Muslim migrants, whom he says threaten Europe’s Christian culture and lifestyle.

“If we become an immigrant country, there will be regression, decline and stagnation,” Orban said last week at a business forum. “If … we do not become an immigrant country, then Hungary will progress.”

Orban’s anti-migration stance has targeted the European Union, George Soros and, lately, the United Nations.  

His chances of winning the election are being enhanced by a fragmented opposition, which has had a hard time agreeing to back a single candidate in voting districts where Fidesz could be defeated.

“If the opposition parties coordinate with each other, they can achieve some level of success,” Gabor Gyori, a senior analyst at political research institute Policy Solutions said. “It may not be enough to get a majority, but it would definitively be enough to stop Fidesz from getting a two-thirds majority.”

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Voters Wrap Up Voting in Pennsylvania Special Election

Working-class voters across western Pennsylvania on Tuesday are weighing in on a surprisingly tight congressional contest that has pitted the strength of President Donald Trump’s grasp on blue-collar America against the energy and anger of the political left.

 

The fight between Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb has drawn national attention as a bellwether for the midterm election in November.

 

In a region Trump carried by 20 points, the White House has scrambled to rally voters behind Saccone, who cast himself as the president’s “wingman,” but has struggled at times to connect with the blue-collar coalition that fueled Trump’s victory little more than a year ago.

 

Democrat Conor Lamb, a 33-year old Marine veteran and former federal prosecutor, downplayed his opposition to the Republican president on Tuesday and insisted instead that the race hinged on local issues.

 

“This didn’t have much to do with President Trump,” Lamb said after casting his vote in suburban Pittsburgh.

Polls close at 8 p.m.

 

Because of a long-running fight over Pennsylvania’s congressional boundaries, the winner will have to start campaigning for re-election almost immediately in a different district. Still, the election has far greater political consequences as each party prepares for the November midterm elections.

 

For the White House and its Republican allies, a Tuesday loss would represent both a profound embarrassment and major cause for concern in the broader push to defend its House and Senate majorities.

 

The president has campaigned in the district twice and sent several tweets on Saccone’s behalf. Other recent visitors include the vice president, the president’s eldest son, the president’s daughter and the president’s chief counselor. Outside groups aligned with Republicans have also poured millions of dollars into the contest.

 

For Democrats, a win would reverberate nationwide, while even a narrow loss would be viewed as a sign of increased Democratic enthusiasm just as the midterm season begins.

 

Democratic voter Brian Konick supported Trump in 2016. On Tuesday he voted for Lamb.

 

“He’s a little more my style, a little more moderate,” Konick, a 51-year-old Jefferson Hills resident, said of the Democratic candidate.

 

Registered Republican Brett Gelb voted for Saccone, largely because the Republican candidate promised to support the president.

 

“Saccone backs a lot of President Trump’s plans for the country,” said Gelb, a 48-year-old fire technician who lives in Mt. Lebanon. He added, “I do think Trump is doing a good job. I think he needs backup.”

 

Democrats must flip 24 GOP-held seats this fall to seize control of the House, and few counted on this Pittsburgh-area district to be in play. The seat has been in Republican hands for the last 15 years.

 

It’s open now only because longtime Republican congressman Tim Murphy, who espoused strong anti-abortion views, resigned last fall amid revelations of an extramarital affair in which he urged his mistress to get an abortion.

 

After voting Tuesday in Allegheny County, Saccone downplayed the significance of the unusually close race.

 

“The Democrats … they’re throwing everything they can at this race,” he said. “There hasn’t been an open seat for a long time.”

 

Besides bruising the president, a Lamb defeat also could shake Republican self-assurance that their new tax law can shield them from other political woes.

 

With polls showing a tight race for months, Saccone has implored the GOP-leaning electorate that their choice is about “making America great again,” just as the president says.

The 60-year-old Air Force veteran turned state lawmaker and college instructor enjoys enthusiastic backing from social conservatives who’ve anchored his state career, and he’s perhaps at his most animated when he touts his opposition to abortion rights.

 

Yet Saccone struggled to raise money and stir the same passions that helped Trump sweep the industrial Midwest on his way to the White House. The consistent fundraising deficit has left him with limited resources to air the message he delivers one-on-one: His four decades of experience in the private sector, international business and now the legislature make voters’ choice a no-brainer.

 

Lamb, meanwhile, has excited core Democrats and aimed for independents and moderate Republicans.

 

“We worked really hard for it,” Lamb said after voting.

 

He did it as national Republican groups filled airwaves and social media with depictions of the first-time candidate as little more than a lemming for Nancy Pelosi — the California Democrat, House minority leader.

 

Lamb answered the critique by saying he won’t support Pelosi as floor leader, much less a return to the speaker’s rostrum. He also says he opposes major new gun restrictions — though he backs expanded background checks — and declared himself personally opposed to abortion, despite his support for its legality.

 

Lamb has largely avoided mentioning Trump, who remains generally popular in the district even if slightly diminished from his 2016 dominance.

 

He pairs those tacks with Democratic Party orthodoxy on the new GOP tax law, hammering it as a giveaway to corporations at the certain future expense of Social Security, Medicare and the nation’s fiscal security. And he embraces unions, highlighting Saccone’s anti-labor record at the statehouse — a noticeable deviation from Murphy’s status as a union-friendly Republican.

 

The AFL-CIO counts 87,000 votes from union households — around a fifth of the electorate.

 

In a final-hours message on Fox Business Network, Saccone said that he’s ready and willing to help Trump.

 

“He’s getting beat up in Washington as you see, from the media, from the bureaucracy and from Hollywood,” Saccone said. “He needs a good wingman.”

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US Official Urges Resolution of Macedonia Name Dispute

A senior U.S. official on Tuesday urged Macedonia and Greece to seize the moment to resolve a decades-long dispute over the Balkan country’s name that has prevented it from joining NATO.

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wes Mitchell visited Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, as part of a Balkan tour. He told reporters “there is a tremendous opportunity” for Skopje and Athens to reach a deal over the long-running spat.

Macedonia and Greece have been at odds for a quarter-century over the name Macedonia, but have pledged to resolve the dispute by the summer. Greece argues the country’s name harbors territorial claims on its own northern province of Macedonia.

The two countries have intensified talks recently in hopes of finding a compromise to end the dispute.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, speaking at a joint news conference with Mitchell, said he had told the U.S. official Macedonia and Greece were “starting the final phase that will ultimately bring a dignified solution to this issue.”

The left-led governments in both countries have been holding talks with a U.N. negotiator, Matthew Nimetz.

Greece wants Macedonia to add a modifier such as “north” or “upper” to Macedonia’s name, and Zaev has said he is open to some options.

But the proposals have triggered protests in both countries.

“We acknowledged that the only solution that will last is the one that both parties would work out for themselves,” Mitchell said. “We are encouraged in that regard with the steps that Macedonia and Greece have taken, so we want to be supportive.” 

Mitchell visited Kosovo before arriving in Macedonia, and was scheduled to head from Skopje to Serbia.

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Starbucks Signs Licensing Agreement With Brazil Investment Firm

Sao Paulo investment firm SouthRock Capital has signed an agreement with Starbucks that gives it the right to develop and operate branches of the Seattle-based chain in Brazil, the companies said late on Monday.

With the agreement, whose value was not disclosed, all of Starbucks’ retail operations in Latin America are now wholly licensed rather than directly managed, the companies said.

SouthRock founder Ken Pope said in a statement the fund would eye expansion opportunities in new and existing markets.

Starbucks now has 113 stores across the populous states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

“With Starbucks, we see continued opportunities for growth in existing markets … as well as new markets like Brasilia and the South,” he said.

SouthRock, founded in 2015, also owns Brazil Airport Restaurants, which operates in the country’s biggest airports.

Shares in Starbucks opened up 0.5 percent but closed down 0.58 percent. The S&P 500 Index fell 0.64 percent.

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Чийгоз у ПАРЄ розповів про посилення репресій проти кримських татар на окупованому півострові

Заступник голови Меджлісу кримськотатарського народу Ахтем Чийгоз, а також інші члени української делегації розповіли на засіданні моніторингового комітету ПАРЄ про посилення репресій проти кримських татар в анексованому Криму. Про це віце-президент парламентської асамблеї Володимир Ар’єв повідомив 13 березня у Facebook.

«На моніторинговому комітеті ПАРЄ ми разом з Ахтемом Чийгозом та Олександрою Романцовою (керівниця проектів Центру громадянських свобод – ред.) поінформували про стан справ із посиленням репресій проти кримських татар в анексованому Криму, про масові «судові» розправи з одиночними пікетами, про атмосферу страху і примусу до участі в незаконних «виборах» президента в Криму. Я також ознайомив комітет з ухваленим Верховною Радою України зверненням до міжнародної спільноти щодо цих так званих «виборів». Дискусія показала повне розуміння делегатів ПАРЄ, що саме влаштували російські окупанти на анексованій території», – вказав Ар’єв.

Крім того, за словами Ар’єва, моніторинговий комітет одноголосно вирішив підтримати підготовку спеціальної доповіді та резолюції щодо ситуації з кримськими татарами.

Міжнародні організації визнали окупацію та анексію Криму незаконними й засудили дії Росії. Країни Заходу запровадили ряд економічних санкцій. Росія заперечує окупацію півострова і називає це «відновленням історичної справедливості». Верховна Рада України офіційно оголосила датою початку тимчасової окупації Криму і Севастополя Росією 20 лютого 2014 року.

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