US, China Agree to Hold Next Round of Trade Talks in September

The latest round of trade talks between U.S. and Chinese negotiators ended in Shanghai Wednesday with an agreement to meet again in September in the U.S.

Although neither side immediately commented on the talks, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported the talks were “frank, highly efficient and constructive.”

The news agency also reported negotiators discussed “the issue of China increasing its purchases of U.S. agricultural products, according to its domestic needs.”

U.S. and Chinese representatives held talks at a working dinner on Tuesday and less than a half day of negotiations on Wednesday before the U.S. delegation headed straight to the airport.

Shortly after U.S. negotiators arrived in Shanghai on Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump warned China against negotiating a deal after the 2020 U.S. presidential election  — declaring a delayed agreement would be less attractive than a deal reached in the near term.

“The problem with them waiting … is that if & when I win, the deal that they get will be much tougher than what we are negotiating now … or no deal at all,” Trump said in a post on Twitter.

…to ripoff the USA, even bigger and better than ever before. The problem with them waiting, however, is that if & when I win, the deal that they get will be much tougher than what we are negotiating now…or no deal at all. We have all the cards, our past leaders never got it!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2019

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded to Trump’s tweet on Wednesday, telling reporters at a daily news briefing in Beijing “it doesn’t make any sense for the U.S. to exercise its campiagn of maximum pressure at this time.”

Hua also said “It’s pointless to tell others to take medication when you’re the one who sick.”

U.S. and Chinese officials gathered in Shanghai in an attempt to revive talks, with both sides trying to temper expectations for a breakthrough.

The world’s two largest economies are engaged in an intense trade war that has dragged on for more than a year, having imposed punitive tariffs on each other totaling more than $360 billion in two-way trade.

The Shanghai negotiations came after Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed at June’s G-20 summit to resurrect efforts to end the costly trade war over China’s technology ambitions and trade surplus.

China is resisting U.S. demands to abolish government-led plans for industrial leaders to enhance robotics, artificial intelligence and other technologies.

The U.S. has complained China’s plans depend on the acquisition of foreign technology through theft or coercion.

Days prior to the Shanghai meeting, Trump threatened to withdraw recognition of China’s developing nation’s status at the World Trade Organization. China responded by saying the threat is indicative of the “arrogance and selfishness” of the U.S.

The U.S. delegation in Shanghai was represented by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. They met with a Chinese delegation led by Vice Premier Liu He, who serves as the country’s economic czar.

 

 

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Rights Group Says Prisoners Go on Hunger Strike in Egypt

Amnesty International says 130 detainees in a notorious Egyptian prison have been on hunger strike for more than six weeks to protest what it calls “cruel and inhumane detention conditions.”
 
The international rights group on Wednesday called on authorities to investigate the prisoners’ allegations of torture and other abuses.
 
Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director, says “the combination of squalid and inhumane detention conditions and the denial of family visits and access to their lawyers… has created an unbearable situation for detainees.”
 
The detainees are being held at a Cairo prison known as the Scorpion, where a number of political figures have been jailed over the course of a sweeping crackdown on dissent in recent years.
 
Calls to the Interior Ministry spokesman requesting comment went unanswered.

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Loophole Allows Families to Get Aid Meant for Needy Students

The U.S. Education Department is being urged to close a loophole that has allowed some wealthy families to get federal, state and university funding that’s meant to help needy students.

Federal authorities were notified last year that some parents in Illinois were transferring custody of their children to friends or relatives to make it appear they came from poorer backgrounds. In doing so, they became eligible for scholarships and federal grants that are typically reserved for low-income students.

Disclosure of the practice comes at a time of intense debate over the fairness of college admissions. Earlier this year, federal authorities say they uncovered a sweeping scheme in which wealthy parents paid bribes to get their children into elite universities across the nation.

The latest case was uncovered at the University of Illinois after guidance counselors at nearby high schools caught wind of the scheme and notified the school’s admissions office. University officials soon noticed a pattern of students coming from certain Chicago suburbs with recent guardianship transfers and similar language in their applications. In total, the school says it has identified 14 cases over the last year.

Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions, said that while the strategy appears to be legal, it’s ethically questionable. By tapping into funding for needy students, he said, wealthy families deprive students who legitimately need help. Some of the families were able to obtain state grants that are first-come, first-served, while thousands of other students were turned away.

“Financial aid is not infinite,” he said. “There are students who are eligible for need-based aid who are not receiving their awards because the state runs out.”

The Education Department’s inspector general said it’s aware of the issue and is urging the agency to add new language to its rules to close the loophole. Under the proposed update, changes of guardianship would not be recognized “if a student enters into a legal guardianship but continues to receive medical and financial support from their parents.”

A statement from the department said it’s weighing how to respond.

“Those who break the rules should be held accountable, and the department is committed to assessing what changes can be made — either independently or in concert with Congress — to protect taxpayers from those who seek to game the system for their own financial gain,” according to the statement.

The scheme, which was first reported Monday by Pro Publica and The Wall Street Journal, has been traced to clusters of parents in Chicago suburbs. It’s unclear how widespread the scheme reaches, but Pro Publica reported that students involved have been accepted to schools including the University of Missouri, the University of Wisconsin and Indiana University. Those schools said they’re looking into the issue.

A statement from the University of Wisconsin said it will review all cases of legal guardianship to verify “genuine financial need.” Indiana University said it will contact any involved students and request documentation to verify financial aid eligibility. The University of Missouri said it has a “very small number” of suspected cases but will pull institutional aid from any students who misrepresented their financial status.

News of the scheme is likely to trigger a wave of similar investigations at colleges across the country as officials try to determine the scope, according to admissions and financial aid groups.

“I can guarantee that they are going to start doing some digging on their own campuses to see if they see any patterns,” said Jill Desjean, a policy analyst at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Some parents told Pro Public and The Journal that they transferred custody of their children on the advice of a college consulting firm called Destination College, based in Lincolnshire, Illinois. The company’s website promises to help parents pay for college “in the most efficient and inexpensive way.” The firm did not respond to a request seeking comment.

After having their custody transferred, students can claim they are independent of their families and apply for financial aid using their own earnings rather than their families’. That would typically qualify them for federal Pell Grants, which are capped at about $6,000 a year, and an Illinois state program that provides about $5,000 a year. It could also make them eligible for university scholarships that range as high as the full cost of tuition.

Mark Sklarow, CEO of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, says both the guardianship scheme and the bribery scandal are symptoms of the spiraling cost of college tuition. Still, he denounced the scheme and said it unfairly robs students who need the most help.

“Guardianship laws are designed for when parents are unable or should not be responsible for a child’s well-being,” he said. “It isn’t something that is meant to be traded away in order to beat the system.”

To help spot the scheme, the University of Illinois added new questions for applicants who indicate they’ve had changes in guardianship. They’re now asked who pays their cellphone bills, for example, and their health care costs. But school officials and financial aid experts are wary of making the process overly complicated for students who have undergone legitimate custody transfers.

“We don’t want to see them having to jump through additional hoops,” said Desjean, of the financial aid association. “It could place an extra burden the most vulnerable students who really are in legal guardianship.”

Among the most immediate questions for the University of Illinois is whether to continue providing university aid to students who used the scheme. Officials said they’re still deciding. But when it comes to federal and state aid, the school is legally required to keep that money flowing to eligible families, said Borst, the admissions director.

“We’ve addressed it as much as we are able to legally,” he said. “But we’re still stuck with having to provide federal and state aid to families who are manipulating the financial aid process.”

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California Governor Signs Bill on Presidential Tax Returns

California’s Democratic governor signed a law Tuesday requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns to appear on the state’s primary ballot, a move aimed squarely at Republican President Donald Trump.

But even if the law withstands a likely legal challenge, Trump could avoid the requirements by choosing not to compete in California’s primary. With no credible GOP challenger at this point, he likely won’t need California’s delegates to win the Republican nomination.

”As one of the largest economies in the world and home to one in nine Americans eligible to vote, California has a special responsibility to require this information of presidential and gubernatorial candidates,” Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom wrote in his veto message to the state Legislature. “These are extraordinary times and states have a legal and moral duty to do everything in their power to ensure leaders seeking the highest offices meet minimal standards, and to restore public confidence.”

New York has passed a law giving congressional committees access to Trump’s state tax returns. But efforts to pry loose his tax returns have floundered in other states. California’s first attempt to do so failed in 2017 when then-Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, vetoed the law, raising questions about its constitutionality and where it would lead next.

”Today we require tax returns, but what would be next?” he wrote in his veto message. “Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards? And will these requirements vary depending on which political party is in power?”

While the law is aimed at Trump, it would apply to all presidential contenders and candidates for governor.

The major Democratic 2020 contenders have already released tax returns for roughly the past decade. Trump has bucked decades of precedent by refusing to release his. Tax returns show income, charitable giving and business dealings, all of which Democratic state lawmakers say voters are entitled to know about.

Candidates will be required to submit tax returns for the most recent five years to California’s Secretary of State at least 98 days before the primary. They will then be posed online for the public to view, with certain personal information redacted.

California is holding next year’s primary on March 3, known as Super Tuesday because the high number of state’s with nominating contests that day.

Democratic Sen. Mike McGuire of Healdsburg said it would be “inconsistent” with past practice for Trump to forego the primary ballot and “ignore the most popular and vote-rich state in the nation.”

McGuire said his bill only applies to the primary election because the state Legislature does not control general election ballot access per the state Constitution.

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Lebanon Music Festival Cancels Show After Christian Pressure

A multi-day international music festival in Lebanon said Tuesday that it’s cancelled a planned concert by a popular Mideast rock band whose lead singer is openly gay, apparently caving to pressure after weeklong calls by some Christian groups to pull the plug on the show, as well as online threats to stop it by force.

Festival organizers released a statement saying the “unprecedented step” of cancelling the performance by Mashrou’ Leila was done “to prevent bloodshed and maintain peace and stability.”

”We apologize for what happened, and apologize to the public,” it added.

Some church leaders and conservative politicians set off a storm of indignation on social media this week when they demanded that the Mashrou’ Leila concert be canceled, accusing the Lebanese group of blasphemy and saying some of its songs are an insult to Christianity. The band, known for its rousing music and lyrics challenging norms in the conservative Arab world, soon became the center of a heated debate about freedom of expression.

Online, some groups and users posted threats suggesting they would violently stop the concert.

Mashrou’ Leila was scheduled to perform in the coastal city of Byblos on Aug. 9, marking the third time the group takes part in the annual Byblos International Festival. The other performances will still take place.

The cancellation triggered a storm of protests and a campaign of solidarity with the band on social media by Lebanese who described it as shameful and a dangerous precedent.

”This is a step back for Lebanon, which has always prided itself on embracing diversity and being a center for music, art and culture,” tweeted Aya Majzoub, a Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Amnesty International, in a statement, said the decision to cancel the show is an “alarming indicator” of the deteriorating state of freedom of expression in Lebanon.

”This is the direct result of the government’s failure to take a strong stand against hatred and discrimination and to put in place the necessary measures to ensure the performance could go ahead,” Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director Lynn Maalouf said.

There was no immediate comment from the band, which last week issued a statement denouncing the “defamatory campaign” and saying that some of the lyrics from their songs were being taken out of context and twisted.

The group has been a champion of LGBT rights in the Arab world and regularly sings about controversial subjects such as sectarianism, corruption and other social and political problems.

The band has previously been banned from performing in Jordan and Egypt, but censorship demands threatening its concert in the more liberal Lebanon — where it has performed on numerous occasions — are new.

On Monday, dozens of Lebanese held a protest in downtown Beirut objecting to the proposed ban and rejecting attempts by Christian clergymen and some right wing groups to ban the group.

”Regardless of our opinion of the songs and the band, we need to defend freedom of expression, because freedom is for everyone and for everybody. The day it stops, it stops for everybody,” said writer and director Lucien Bourjeily.

The band, whose name translates as “Night Project,” was founded 10 years ago by a group of architecture students at the American University of Beirut whose songs challenged stereotypes through their music and lyrics.

Riding on the wave Arab Spring uprisings that swept the Middle East, the band was embraced by Arab youth who see its music as part of a cultural and social revolution. The band members have gone on to gain worldwide acclaim, performing in front of sold-out crowds in the United States, Berlin, London and Paris.

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South Africa Says Unemployment At Highest Level in A Decade

South Africa says unemployment has reached its highest level in a decade at 29%.

Second-quarter figures released Tuesday show the number of unemployed rose by 573,000 over the past year, with only 21,000 jobs created.

It is the latest grim report for Africa’s most developed economy, which in May announced that growth had dropped by the most in a decade during the first quarter.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration is under public pressure to turn around the economy and clean up corruption. That dissatisfaction led to the worst election showing in 25 years for Ramaphosa’s ruling African National Congress in May.

The unemployment numbers were released on the same day that South Africa’s struggling state-owned power utility Eskom announced losses of more than 20 billion rand ($1.4 billion) last fiscal year. Eskom supplies about 95% of the country’s electricity and is at the center of Ramaphosa’s efforts to rid state-owned enterprises of corruption and mismanagement.

When Ramaphosa won election in May “we expected a solid emergency plan to address the economic challenges and these unemployment challenges,” Lumkile Mondi, an economics lecturer at Witwatersrand University, told The Associated Press.

“But that has not been forthcoming and all we have had so far has been political bickering. The ruling party is more concerned about the politics of power than the health of the economy. That is why these figures were not necessarily unexpected,” Mondi said.

The ruling ANC faces an internal struggle between allies of Ramaphosa and former president Jacob Zuma, who led South Africa from 2009 to 2018 when he resigned under party pressure amid corruption allegations and was replaced by his former deputy Ramaphosa.

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Trump Administration Further Tightens Asylum Eligibility Requirements

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has tightened the eligibly requirements for seeking asylum in the United States, making it more difficult for those persecuted because of family ties to be granted protection.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr ruled Monday that that those who seek asylum because of a threat against another family member usually do not have enough of a reason to be granted asylum in the United States.

Barr, as head of the Department of Justice, has the ability to set standards for all U.S. immigration judges and to overturn immigration court rulings. 

U.S. law states that people can seek asylum in the United States if they can prove a fear of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a specific social group. Until now the term “social group” was often interpreted by immigration judges to include families.

In his ruling Monday, Barr argued that virtually all asylum-seekers are members of a family and said “there is no evidence that Congress intended the term ‘particular social group’ to cast so wide a net.”

His decision was in regards to a case involving a Mexican man who sought asylum because his family was targeted after his father refused to let a drug cartel use the family store.

The Trump administration has taken a series of measures to restrict asylum claims, including denying asylum requests to victims of gang violence or domestic abuse. The administration has argued that the asylum system is often abused by immigrants who use fraudulent claims to try to enter the United States.

Immigration activists say the administration’s latest decision reverses years of precedent and could affect thousands of people.

 

 

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Chinese ‘Cyberdissident’ Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison

A prominent Chinese human rights activist and journalist has been sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of disclosing state secrets.

Huang Qi, 56, is the founder of the website 64 Tianwang, which documents alleged rights abuses by the government. He has been in custody for more than two years. 

His sentence is one of the harshest given to a dissident since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, according to court records.

Huang was guilty of “leaking national state secrets and providing state secrets to foreign entities,” the statement by the Mianyang intermediate people’s court said.

FILE – Hong Kong pro-democracy activists hold a placard, at right, that reads “rights activism is not wrong, free Huang Qi” during a protest outside the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong, Jan. 29, 2019.

His website, which reported on local corruption, human rights violations, and other topics rarely seen in ordinary Chinese media, is blocked on the mainland.

The journalism advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) refers to Huang as a “cyberdissident,” and awarded him its Cyberfreedom Prize in 2016. A few weeks later, Huang was detained in his hometown of Chengdu, according to human rights group Amnesty International.

Human rights groups, including the RSF, called on Xi on Monday to pardon Huang. “This decision is equivalent to a death sentence, considering Huang Qi’s health has already deteriorated from a decade spent in harsh confinement,” said RSF chief Christophe Deloire.

Huang’s mother, Pu Wenqing, has asked authorities to move him to a hospital to receive treatment for kidney disease, severe weight loss and other ailments. 

Numerous Chinese dissidents have fallen ill while in state custody. Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo was serving an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” when he died of liver cancer two years ago. 
 
According to RSF, China is currently holding more than 114 journalists behind bars and is ranked 177th out of 180 in the RSF 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

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UN Warns Islamic State Leader Plotting Comeback from Iraq

Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.

The Islamic State terror group’s self-declared caliphate may be dead, but its leaders are hanging on in Syria and Iraq, dreaming of the day when they can again direct attacks on targets around the world.

The conclusion is part of a sobering assessment in a newly released quarterly United Nations report on IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which warns the epicenter for the terror group’s budding renaissance is Iraq, “where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and most of the ISIL leadership are now based.”

“The leadership aims to adapt, survive and consolidate in the core area and to establish sleeper cells at the local level in preparation for eventual resurgence,” the report cautioned. “When it has the time and space to reinvest in an external operations capability, ISIL will direct and facilitate international attacks.”

In the meantime, the report warns the terror organization, “has continued its evolution into a mainly covert network,” since the fall of Baghuz, the last territory it held in Syria, this past March.

While the assessment that Baghdadi is operating mostly out of Iraq is new, the other warnings are similar to concerns voiced by U.S. officials and others dating back to last year.

IS “is well-positioned to rebuild and work on enabling its physical caliphate to re-emerge,” Pentagon spokesman Commander Sean Robertson told VOA last August.

“This is not the end of the fight,” U.S. Special Representative for Syria, Ambassador James Jeffery, said this past March, following the fall of Baghuz.

More recently, a report by the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW), said the terror group is poised for a comeback that “could be faster and even more devastating” than when it first swept across parts of Syria and Iraq.

Intelligence from U.N. member states anticipates that “comeback” will take place in the Syrian and Iraqi heartlands, where IS has the majority of its estimated 10,000 to 15,000 fighters, many in clandestine cells.

Echoing U.S. intelligence and military assessments, the U.N. report stated IS operations are more advanced in Iraq but that its operatives are still able to move freely across parts of both Iraq and Syria.

The group’s attacks, which seem to be coming with increased frequency, appear aimed at frustrating the local populations, for example burning crops in northern Iraq to prevent any steps toward recovery and stabilization.

“Their hope is that the local populations will become impatient, blame the authorities and grow nostalgic for the time when ISIL was in control,” the report said, adding member states fear it may be working.

At the same time, intelligence officials said IS is effectively using its media and propaganda arms to maintain relevance until such time that it is again ready to strike on the global stage.

Adding to the concerns of intelligence officials around the world are the large number of foreign fighters that may still be at large, either in Syria and Iraq, or in the surrounding countries.

U.S. counterterror officials estimate that more than 45,000 fighters from 110 countries flocked to Syria and Iraq, almost all to fight for IS.

As of earlier this year, as many as 10,000 were thought to be at large, having escaped the fall of the terror group’s caliphate. But the new U.N. assessment warns that number could be higher, and that “up to 30,000 of those who travelled to the so-called ‘caliphate’ may still be alive.”

A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter watches illumination rounds light up Baghuz, Syria, as the last pocket of Islamic State militants is attacked on March 12, 2019.
Fears Grow Islamic State’s Foreign Fighters Ready to Carry On
This is part one of a four-part series.

WASHINGTON — Even as the Islamic State’s caliphate was clinging to life with its last defenders cornered in a small town in northeastern Syria, the terror group managed to shock those who would eventually see it die.
 
Instead of waiting out about 1,000 civilians and 300 or so hard-core IS fighters who had retreated to Baghuz, the U.S.-led coalition watched for weeks in late February and March, as upwards of 30,000 civilians and 5,000 fighters, slowly surrendered.
 
“Very much unanticipated,” a senior U.S.

Despite all this, the U.N. report finds IS still faces some significant challenges, especially when it comes to money.

While IS still has an estimated $50 million to $300 million in revenue left over from its self-declared caliphate, the group “is reported to lack liquid funds to run operations,” according to the report. As such, member states told the U.N. that IS operatives have become more dependent on crime while also trying to profit from legitimate businesses.

IS has also become more dependent on provinces and its more established affiliates, so it runs the risk that its agenda will slowly become less international and more regionalized. 

And it continues to face stiff competition from its main rival, al-Qaida, as the two terror groups battle in Syria and Iraq, and increasingly in parts of West Africa and the Sahel, for followers.

Al-Qaida, itself, also faces a somewhat uncertain future, at least in the near term, according the U.N. report, with its leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, “reported to be in poor health and doubts as to how the group will manage the succession.”

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Poverty in Philippines, High for Asia, Falls as Economy Strengthens

Poverty in the Philippines, a chronic development issue that makes the country an outlier in Asia, is declining because of economic strength followed by job creation.

The archipelago’s official poverty rate dropped to 21% in the first half of last year from 27.6% in the first half of 2015, President Rodrigo Duterte said in his July 22 State of the Nation Address.

Economic growth of 6% plus since 2012 has helped to create jobs, especially in Philippine cities such as the capital Manila, economists who follow the country say.

“Twenty-seven percent is actually pretty high by kind of Asian standards, so I think that progress is attributable to the rapid economic growth that’s happened in the Philippines since 2012,” said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at the market research firm IHS Markit.

Asian outlier

Poverty around Asia had declined from 47.3% in 1990 to 16.1% in 2013, according to World Bank data. Factory jobs, often driven by domestic export manufacturing industries, have fueled much of the boom, especially in China.

Poverty lingered in the Philippines largely for lack of rural jobs, economists believe. Rudimentary farming and fishing anchor the way of life on many of the country’s 7,100 islands. Foreign manufacturers often bypass the Philippines because of its remote location, compared to continental Asia, and relative lack of infrastructure that factory operators need to ship goods.

But the country hit a fast-growth stride in 2012 with a pickup in manufacturing and services. After growing just 3.7% in 2011, the GDP that now stands at $331 billion has expanded at between 6.1% and 7.1% per year.

More jobs

Urban jobs are getting easier to find as multinationals locate call centers in the Philippines, taking advantage of cheap labor and English-language proficiency.

A $169 billion, 5-year program to renew public infrastructure is creating construction jobs while giving factory investors new reason to consider siting in the country. Most new jobs now are in construction, with some in manufacturing, said Christian de Guzman, vice president and senior credit officer with Moody’s Sovereign Risk Group in Singapore.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his 4th State of the Nation Address at the 18th Congress at the House of Representatives in Quezon city, metropolitan Manila, Philippines July 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Underemployment, he added, has “improved quite a bit,” de Guzman said.

“Jobs are being created (and in) the jobs that do exist, I think there’s more work to do, so to speak,” de Guzman said. “I guess less underemployment if you will, and again this is one of the fastest growing economies in Asia.”

Philippine unemployment edged down just 0.1 percentage point to 5.2% in January 2019 compared to a year earlier, but underemployment fell from 18% to 15.6% over that period, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

Tax reform

Duterte is also advancing tax reforms that he expects to lower poverty to 14% of the 105 million population by 2022. 

Tax revenue collected under these reforms will allow the government to spend more on health, education and other social services aimed at making people more prosperous, the Department of Finance said in a statement last year.

The Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act (TRAIN), which Duterte signed into law in 2017, spells out changes in the tax code.

“Actually, one of the key elements there is the first tax laws that was passed, we call it the TRAIN one,” said Ramon Casiple, executive director or the advocacy group Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in Metro Manila.

Rural income

Longer-term poverty relief will come down to creation of rural jobs such as “specialized” or “advanced” agriculture, Biswas said. The 21% poverty rate is “still high,” he said. Government agencies and private firms over the past few years have already introduced hybrid seeds and new technology to make farming more self-sufficient, domestic news outlet BusinessWorld reported last year.

Natural disasters such as seasonal typhoons and a 50-year conflict between Muslims and the military in the south further hobble poverty relief, some analysts believe. Local government corruption also stops aid from reaching some of the poor, they suggest.

“Both growth and, in turn, poverty reduction seem to be hindered by several factors, including unequal wealth distribution both in terms of social groups and geographic distribution…corruption as well as natural disasters and ongoing conflicts, with the latter triggering a series of negative collateral effects,” said Enrico Cau, Southeast Asia-specialized associate researcher at the Taiwan Center for International Strategic Studies.

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PM Johnson Makes First Scotland Trip in Bid to Boost Union

New British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will make his first official visit to Scotland on Monday in an attempt to bolster the union in the face of warnings over a no-deal Brexit. 

Johnson will visit a military base to announce new funding for local communities, saying that Britain is a “global brand and together we are safer, stronger and more prosperous”, according to a statement released by his Downing Street Office.

It will be the first stop on a tour of the countries that make up the United Kingdom, as he attempts to win support for his Brexit plans and head off talk of a break-up of the union.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said last week that Scotland, which voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum, needed an “alternative option” to Johnson’s Brexit strategy.

He has promised that Britain will leave the EU on October 31, with or without a deal.

Sturgeon, who leads the separatist Scottish National Party (SNP), told Johnson that the devolved Scottish Parliament would consider legislation in the coming months for another vote on seceding from the United Kingdom.

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar has also said that a no-deal Brexit would make more people in Northern Ireland “come to question the union” with Britain.

Johnson, who decided that he will take the symbolic title of Minister for the Union alongside that of prime minister, will announce £300 million (£370 million, 332 million euros) of new investment for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland during Monday’s visit.

“Important projects like the government’s growth deals… will open up opportunities across our union so people in every corner of the United Kingdom can realize their potential,” he was to say.

“As we prepare for our bright future after Brexit, it’s vital we renew the ties that bind our United Kingdom.

“I look forward to visiting Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure that every decision I make as prime minister promotes and strengthens our union,” he will add.

Johnson plans to visit local farmers in Wales and discuss the ongoing talks to restore the devolved government when he visits Northern Ireland.

The investment boost comes after the prime minister announced a £3.6 billion fund supporting 100 towns in England, raising suggestions that he is already in campaign mode for an election. 

Many MPs are opposed to leaving the EU without a deal, and could try and topple the government in an attempt to prevent it, potentially triggering a vote.

Johnson has made a busy start to his premiership as he attempts win over public opinion for his Brexit plans and put pressure on those who could bring him down.

But the EU has already said his demands to renegotiate the deal struck by his predecessor Theresa May, but which was three times rejected by parliament, are  “unacceptable.”

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US China Move Trade Talks to Shanghai Amid Deal Pessimism

U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators shift to Shanghai this week for their first in-person talks since a G20 truce last month, a change of scenery for two sides struggling to resolve deep differences on how to end a year-long trade war.

Expectations for progress during the two-day Shanghai meeting are low, so officials and businesses are hoping Washington and Beijing can at least detail commitments for “goodwill” gestures and clear the path for future negotiations.

These include Chinese purchases of U.S. farm commodities and the United States allowing firms to resume some sales to China’s tech giant Huawei Technologies.

President Donald Trump said on Friday that he thinks China may not want to sign a trade deal until after the 2020 election in the hope that they could then negotiate more favorable terms with a different U.S. president.

“I think probably China will say “Let’s wait,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “Let’s wait and see if one of these people who gives the United States away, let’s see if one of them could get elected.”

For more than a year, the world’s two largest economies have slapped billions of dollars of tariffs on each other’s imports, disrupting global supply chains and shaking financial markets in their dispute over China’s “state capitalism” mode of doing business with the world. Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed at last month’s G20 summit in Osaka, Japan to restart trade talks that stalled in May, after Washington accused Beijing of reneging on major portions of a draft agreement — a collapse in the talks that prompted a steep U.S. tariff hike on $200 billion of Chinese goods.

Trump said after the Osaka meeting that he would not impose new tariffs on a final $300 billion of Chinese imports and would ease some U.S. restrictions on Huawei if China agreed to make purchases of U.S. agricultural products.

Chips and commodities

Since then, China has signaled that it would allow Chinese firms to make some tariff-free purchases of U.S. farm goods. Washington has encouraged companies to apply for waivers to a national security ban on sales to Huawei, and said it would respond to them in the next few weeks. 

But going into next week’s talks, neither side has implemented the measures that were intended to show their goodwill. That bodes ill for their chances of resolving core issues in the trade dispute, such as U.S. complaints about Chinese state subsidies, forced technology transfers and intellectual property violations.

U.S. officials have stressed that relief on U.S. sales to Huawei would apply only to products with no implications for national security, and industry watchers expect those waivers will only allow the Chinese technology giant to buy the most commoditized U.S. components.

Reuters reported last week that despite the carrot of a potential exemption from import tariffs, Chinese soybean crushers are unlikely to buy in bulk from the United States any time soon as they grapple with poor margins and longer-term doubts about Sino-U.S. trade relations. Soybeans are the largest U.S. agricultural export to China.

“They are doing this little dance with Huawei and Ag purchases,” said one source recently briefed by senior Chinese negotiators.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on Friday said he “wouldn’t expect any grand deal,” at the meeting and negotiators would try to “reset the stage” to bring the talks back to where they were before the May blow-up. “We anticipate, we strongly expect the Chinese to follow through (on) goodwill and just helping the trade balance with large-scale purchases of U.S. agriculture products and services.” Kudlow said on CNBC television.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will meet with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He for two days of talks in Shanghai starting on Tuesday, both sides said.

“Less politics, more business,” Tu Xinquan, a trade expert at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics, who closely follows the trade talks, said of the possible reason Shanghai was chosen as the site for talks. “Each side can take a small step first to build some trust, followed by more actions,” Tu said of the potential goodwill gestures.

‘Do the Deal’

A delegation of U.S. company executives traveled to Beijing last week to stress to Chinese officials the urgency of a trade deal, according to three sources who asked to not be named. They cautioned Chinese negotiators in meetings that if a deal is not reached in the coming months the political calendar in China and the impending U.S. presidential election will make reaching an agreement extremely difficult.

“Do the deal. It’s going to be a slog, but if this goes past Dec. 31, it’s not going to happen,” one American executive told Reuters, citing the U.S. 2020 election campaign. Others said the timeline was even shorter.

Two sources briefed by senior-level Chinese negotiators ahead of next week’s talks said China was still demanding that all U.S. tariffs be removed as one of the conditions for a deal. Beijing is opposed to a phased withdrawal of duties, while U.S. trade officials see tariff removal — and the threat of reinstating them — as leverage for enforcing any agreement. China also is adamant that any purchase agreement for U.S. goods be at a reasonable level, and that the deal is balanced and respects Chinese legal sovereignty.

U.S. negotiators have demanded that China make changes to its laws as assurances for safeguarding U.S. companies’ know-how, an insistence that Beijing has vehemently rejected. If U.S. negotiators want progress in this area, they might be satisfied with directives issued by China’s State Council instead, one of the sources said.

One U.S.-based industry source said expectations for any kind of breakthrough during the Shanghai talks were low, and that the main objective was for each side to get clarity on the “goodwill” measures associated with the Osaka summit.

There is little clarity on which negotiating text the two sides will rely on, with Washington wanting to adhere to the pre-May draft, and China wanting to start anew with the copy it sent back to U.S. officials with numerous edits and redactions, precipitating the collapse in talks in May.

Zhang Huanbo, senior researcher at the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE), said he could not verify U.S. officials’ complaints that 90 percent of the deal had been agreed before the May breakdown. “We can only say there may be an initial draft. There is only zero and 100% – deal or no deal,” Zhang said.

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Moscow’s ‘Disproportionate’ Use of Force Condemned After 1,300 Detained

Police in Moscow detained more than 1,300 people in a day of protests against alleged irregularities in the run-up to local elections, according to an independent group that monitors crackdowns on demonstrations.

Officers clad in riot gear used batons against demonstrators who had gathered outside Moscow City Hall on July 27 and roughly detained people.

The crackdown continued after the protesters moved to other locations in the Russian capital, chanting slogans such as “Russia without [President Vladimir] Putin!”

The United States, the European Union, and human rights groups denounced what they called the “disproportionate” and “indiscriminate” use of force against the demonstrators, who were protesting against the refusal of election officials to register several opposition figures as candidates in municipal polls in September.

Opposition leaders said the ban was an attempt to deny them the chance to challenge pro-government candidates.

Police officers detain a man during an unsanctioned rally in the center of Moscow, Russia, July 27, 2019.

Police said 1,074 arrests were made at the unsanctioned rally, while the OVD-Info independent organization reported 1,373 detentions.

A number of those held were released by the evening.

Several opposition figures and would-be candidates were among those detained by police, including Ivan Zhdanov, Ilya Yashin, and Dmitry Gudkov.

Some protest leaders were detained on their way to the rally in central Moscow.

Aleksandra Parushina, a Moscow City Duma deputy from the opposition A Just Russia party, told RFE/RL’s Current Time — a project led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA — that she was struck in the head by riot police from Russia’s OMON force, who “brutally” dispersed a crowd that was attempting to form near the Moscow mayor’s office on Tverskaya Street, one of Moscow’s main thoroughfares.

“Detention of over 1000 peaceful protestors in Russia and use of disproportionate police force undermine rights of citizens to participate in the democratic process,” U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Andrea Kalan tweeted.

In a statement, EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said the “disproportionate use of force against peaceful protesters” undermined “the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and assembly.”

Amnesty International also condemned what it called the “indiscriminate use of force by police, who beat protesters with batons and knocked them to the ground.”

The director of the London-based human rights watchdog’s office in Russia, Natalya Zvyagina, said Russian authorities “hit a new low by imposing military lawlike security measures on the unsanctioned rally, blocking access to major Moscow streets and shutting down businesses in advance,” despite the absence of credible reports of potential violence.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, a close ally of Putin, had warned beforehand that “order in the city will be ensured.”

It is unclear how many people turned up for the rally because authorities prevented a mass crowd from gathering together in any one location.

According to police, about 3,500 people gathered near the mayor’s office, including 700 registered journalists and bloggers.

However, opposition activists said the number was much higher.

The decision to bar opposition candidates from the September 8 City Duma election over what Moscow election officials described as insufficient signatures on nominating petitions has sparked several days of demonstrations this month.

A July 20 opposition rally in Moscow drew an estimated crowd of 20,000.

Aleksei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition activist who is currently serving a 30-day jail sentence for calling the latest protest, has said demonstrations would continue until the rejected candidates are allowed to run.

The 45 members of the Moscow City Duma hold powerful posts — retaining the ability to propose legislation as well as inspect how the city’s $43 billion budget is spent.

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Putin Leads Russian Naval Parade after Crackdown in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin led Russia’s first major naval parade in years on Sunday, the day after a violent police crackdown on anti-government protesters in Moscow.

Putin on Sunday morning went aboard one of the vessels in the Navy Day parade in St. Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland. The parade, the biggest in years, included 43 ships and submarines and 4,000 troops.

Putin was spending the weekend away from Moscow, the Russian capital, where nearly 1,400 people were detained Saturday in a violent police crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. A Russian group that monitors police arrests gave the figure Sunday, saying it was the largest number of detentions at a rally in the Russian capital this decade.

Police wielded batons and wrestled with protesters around the Moscow City Hall after thousands thronged nearby streets, rallying against a move by election authorities to bar opposition candidates from the Sept. 8 ballot for the Moscow city council.

 

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Afghan Presidential Campaign Kicks Off Amid Doubts Whether Polls Will Go Ahead

The campaign to elect Afghanistan’s new president started Sunday amid fear of foul play, insecurity and doubts whether the vote — set for September 28 —  will actually take place.

Eighteen candidates, including incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and his governing partner, chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, have embarked on a two-month campaign.  

Key rival candidates, including Abdullah, have accused the president of using government resources for the electoral campaign. Several contenders have also expressed lack of confidence in the election process,

Election officials, however, have vowed to ensure a transparent and safe election, even though half of the Afghan territory is controlled or hotly contested by the Taliban insurgency.

The September presidential ballot is the fourth held in since the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban regime in late 2001.

Ghani and Abdullah were among the candidates who addressed their campaign rallies Sunday, with both promising to put the country on the path of stability and economic development.

Both the leaders, however, have faced sever criticism for failing to deliver on commitments under the current coalition government mainly due to simmering internal political rifts between the two over governance-related matters.

Ghani said in his speech Sunday he will push his peace efforts with the Taliban if he won another five-year term to end the bloodshed in Afghanistan.

“Peace is around the corner and negotiations will begin. Those negotiations will be serious and legitimate,” Ghani insisted.

But the Taliban insurgency refuses to engage in any reconciliation process with Ghani and his administration, denouncing them as illegitimate and “American puppets.”

US-Taliban peace talks

The lingering election-related uncertainty stems from peace negotiations the United States is holding with the Taliban in a bid to end the 18-year-old Afghan war between the two adversaries and prepare the way for intra-Afghan peace talks. 

American and Taliban negotiators are said to be on the verge of announcing a final agreement after nearly a year-long dialogue. Such an eventually, it is widely perceived, would mean the election will be overseen by transitional government in Kabul, where the Taliban will also have a say.

Some presidential candidates have supported a deadline to allow the peace process take root. But in his speech Sunday, President Ghani rejected any compromise on the elections, saying they will go ahead as planned.

The election campaign started a day after the Afghan government announced direct talks with the Taliban will begin in the next two weeks. But the insurgent group swiftly rejected the claims, raising questions about the motives of Ghani’s administration as some critics said Saturday’s official announcement was aimed at subverting the U.S.-led peace process.

A spokesman for the Taliban’s negotiating team, Suhail Shaheen, while talking to VOA, stressed again that only if an agreement is reached with Washington on a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the insurgent group would negotiate peace with Afghans, where Kabul would have its representation but not as a government.

FILE – Afghan delegates inside the conference hall included Lotfullah Najafizada (2nd-R), the head of Afghan TV channel Tolo News, in Doha, Qatar, July 7, 2019. U.S special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is seen center rear, with red tie. (A. Tanzeem/VOA)

U.S. chief negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, also issued a clarification late Saturday, backing the insurgent assertions, saying direct Afghan-to-Afghan negotiations will happen after a U.S.-Taliban agreement is concluded.

“They [intra-Afghan negotiations] will take place between the Taliban and an inclusive and effective national negotiating team consisting of senior government officials, key political party representatives, civil society and women,” Khalilzad tweeted.  

The Afghan-born American envoy’s statement just before the election campaign was to be launched, critics said, dealt a political blow to Ghani.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last month Washington hopes an Afghan peace deal would be reached by September 1.

 

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Mueller’s Words Twisted by Trump and More

President Donald Trump listened to Robert Mueller testify to Congress this past week, then misrepresented what the former special counsel said. Some partisans on both sides did much the same, whether to defend or condemn the president.

Trump seized on Mueller’s testimony to claim anew that he was exonerated by the Russia investigation, which the president wasn’t. He capped the week by wishing aloud that President Barack Obama had received some of the congressional scrutiny he’s endured, ignoring the boatload of investigations, subpoenas and insults visited on the Democrat and his team.

Highlights from a week in review:

THE GENTLEMEN

TRUMP on Democrats: “All they want to do is impede, they want to investigate. They want to go fishing. … We want to find out what happened with the last Democrat president. Let’s look into Obama the way they’ve looked at me. Let’s subpoena all of the records having to do with Hillary Clinton and all of the nonsense that went on with Clinton and her foundation and everything else. Could do that all day long. Frankly, the Republicans were gentlemen and women when we had the majority in the House. They didn’t do subpoenas all day long. They didn’t do what these people are doing. What they’ve done is a disgrace.” — Oval Office remarks Friday.

THE FACTS: He’s distorting recent history. Republicans made aggressive use of their investigative powers when they controlled one chamber or the other during the Obama years. Moreover, matters involving Hillary Clinton, her use of email as secretary of state, her conduct of foreign policy and the Clinton Foundation were very much part of their scrutiny. And they weren’t notably polite about it.

Over a few months in 2016, House Republicans unleashed a barrage of subpoenas in what minority Democrats called a “desperate onslaught of frivolous attacks” against Clinton. In addition, Clinton was investigated by the FBI.

Earlier, a half-dozen GOP-led House committees conducted protracted investigations of the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya. Republican-led investigations of the 2009-2011 Operation Fast and Furious episode — a botched initiative against drug cartels that ended up putting guns in the hands of violent criminals — lasted into the Trump administration.

On the notion that Obama was treated with courtesy by GOP “gentlemen and women,” Trump ignored an episode at Obama’s 2013 speech to Congress that was shocking at the time.

“You lie!” Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina hollered at Obama. His outburst came when Obama attempted to assure lawmakers that his health care initiative would not provide coverage to people in the U.S. illegally.

Obama also faced persistent innuendo over the country of his birth. Trump himself was a leading voice raising baseless suspicions that Obama was born outside the U.S.

NORTH KOREA

TRUMP: “We’re getting the remains back.” — Fox News interview Thursday.

THE FACTS: No remains of U.S. service members have been returned since last summer and the U.S. suspended efforts in May to get negotiations on the remains back on track in time to have more repatriated this year. It hopes more remains may be brought home next year.

The Pentagon’s Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency, which is responsible for recovering U.S. war remains and returning them to families, “has not received any new information from (North Korean) officials regarding the turn over or recovery of remains,” spokesman Charles Prichard said this month.

He said his agency is “still working to communicate” with the North Korean army “as it is our intent to find common ground on resuming recovery missions” in 2020.

Last summer, in line with the first summit between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un that June, the North turned over 55 boxes of what it said were the remains of an undetermined number of U.S. service members killed in the North during the 1950-53 war. So far, six Americans have been identified from the 55 boxes.

U.S. officials have said the North has suggested in recent years that it holds perhaps 200 sets of American war remains. Thousands more are unrecovered from battlefields and former POW camps.

The Pentagon estimates that 5,300 Americans were lost in North Korea.

MUELLER

TRUMP to his critics, in a fundraising letter from his 2020 campaign: “How many times do I have to be exonerated before they stop?” — during Mueller’s testimony Wednesday.

THE FACTS: Trump has not been exonerated by Mueller at all. “No,” Mueller said when asked during his Capitol Hill questioning whether he had cleared the president of criminal wrongdoing in the investigation that looked into the 2016 Trump campaign’s relations with Russians and Russia’s interference in the U.S. election.

In his report, Mueller said his team declined to make a prosecutorial judgment on whether to charge Trump, partly because of a Justice Department legal opinion that said sitting presidents shouldn’t be indicted.

As a result, his detailed report factually laid out instances in which Trump might have obstructed justice, leaving it up to Congress to take up the matter.

As well, Mueller looked into a potential criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign and said the investigation did not collect sufficient evidence to establish criminal charges on that front.

Following Mueller’s testimony, Trump abruptly took a different stance on the special counsel’s report. After months of claiming exoneration, and only hours after stating as much in the fundraising letter while the hearing unfolded, Trump incongruously flipped, saying “He didn’t have the right to exonerate.”

TRUMP, on why Mueller did not recommend charges: “He made his decision based on the facts, not based on some rule.” — remarks to reporters Wednesday after the hearings.

THE FACTS: Mueller did not say that.

The special counsel said his team never reached a determination on charging Trump. At no point has he suggested that he made that decision because the facts themselves did not support charges.

The rule Trump refers to is the Justice Department legal opinion that says sitting presidents are immune from indictment — and that guidance did restrain the investigators, though it was not the only factor in play.

JOE BIDEN, Democratic presidential contender: “Mueller said there was enough evidence to bring charges against the president after he is president of the United States, when he is a private citizen … that’s a pretty compelling thing.” — speaking to reporters in Dearborn, Michigan.

THE FACTS: Mueller did not say that, either. He deliberately drew no conclusions about whether he collected sufficient evidence to charge Trump with a crime.

Mueller said that if prosecutors want to charge Trump once he is out of office, they would have that ability because obstacles to indicting a sitting president would be gone.

Even that came with a caveat, though. Mueller did not answer whether the statute of limitations might put Trump off limits to an indictment should he win re-election.

Biden spoke after being briefed on the hearings and prefaced his remark with a request to “correct me if I’m wrong.”

Rep. JOHN RATCLIFFE, R-Texas, to Mueller: “You didn’t follow the special counsel regulations. It clearly says, write a confidential report about decisions reached. Nowhere in here does it say write a report about decisions that weren’t reached. You wrote 180 pages — 180 pages — about decisions that weren’t reached, about potential crimes that weren’t charged or decided. …This report was not authorized under the law to be written.” — hearing Wednesday.

THE FACTS: Mueller’s report is lawful. Nothing in Justice Department regulations governing special counsels prevents Mueller from saying what he did in the report.

It is true that the regulations provide for the special counsel to submit a “confidential report” to the attorney general explaining his decisions to recommend for or against a prosecution. But it was Attorney General William Barr who made the decision to make the report public, which is his right.

Special counsels have wide latitude, and are not directed to avoid writing about “potential crimes that weren’t charged or decided,” as Ratcliffe put it.

Mueller felt constrained from bringing charges because of the apparent restriction on indicting sitting presidents. But his report left open the possibility that Congress could use the information in an impeachment proceeding or that Trump could be charged after he leaves office.

The factual investigation was conducted “in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary materials were available,” the report said.

In a tweet, Neal Katyal, who drafted the Justice Department regulations, wrote: “Ratcliffe dead wrong about the Special Counsel regs. I drafted them in 1999. They absolutely don’t forbid the Mueller Report. And they recognize the need for a Report ‘both for historical purposes and to enhance accountability.’”

Rep. MIKE JOHNSON, R-La., addressing Mueller: “Millions of Americans today maintain genuine concerns about your work in large part because of the infamous and widely publicized bias of your investigating team members, which we now know included 14 Democrats and zero Republicans.” — hearing Wednesday.

THE FACTS: Johnson echoes a widely repeated false claim by Trump that the Mueller probe was biased because the investigators were all a bunch of “angry Democrats.” In fact, Mueller himself is a Republican.

Some have given money to Democratic candidates over the years. But Mueller could not have barred them from serving on that basis because regulations prohibit the consideration of political affiliation for personnel actions involving career attorneys. Mueller reported to Barr, and before him, then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who were both Trump appointees.

THE SQUAD

TRUMP, on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York: “She called our country and our people garbage. She said garbage. That’s worse than deplorable. Remember deplorable?” — remarks Tuesday at gathering of conservative youth.

THE FACTS: Ocasio-Cortez did not label people “garbage.” She did use that term, somewhat indirectly, to describe the state of the country.

Arguing for a liberal agenda at a South by Southwest event in March, she said the U.S. shouldn’t settle for centrist policies because they would produce only marginal improvement — “10% better” than the “garbage” of where the country is now.

Trump has been assailing Ocasio-Cortez and three other liberal Democratic women of color in the House for more than a week, ever since he posted tweets saying they should “go back” to their countries, though all are U.S. citizens and all but one was born in the U.S.

VOTING FRAUD

TRUMP: “And when they’re saying all of this stuff, and then those illegals get out and vote — because they vote anyway. Don’t kid yourself, those numbers in California and numerous other states, they’re rigged. You got people voting that shouldn’t be voting. They vote many times, not just twice, not just three times. They vote — it’s like a circle. They come back, they put a new hat on. They come back, they put a new shirt. And in many cases, they don’t even do that. You know what’s going on. It’s a rigged deal.” — remarks Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Trump has produced no evidence of widespread voting fraud by people in the country illegally or by any group of people.

He tried, but the commission he appointed on voting fraud collapsed from infighting and from the refusal of states to cooperate when tapped for reams of personal voter data, like names, partial Social Security numbers and voting histories. Studies have found only isolated cases of voter fraud in recent U.S. elections and no evidence that election results were affected. Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt found 31 cases of impersonation fraud, for example, in about 1 billion votes cast in elections from 2000 to 2014.

Trump has falsely claimed that 1 million fraudulent votes were cast in California and cited a Texas state government report that suggested 58,000 people in the country illegally may have cast a ballot at least once since 1996. But state elections officials subsequently acknowledged serious problems with the report, as tens of thousands on the list were actually U.S. citizens.

ECONOMY

TRUMP: “We have the best stock market numbers we’ve ever had … Blue-collar workers went up proportionately more than anybody.” — Fox News interview Thursday.

THE FACTS: Wealthier Americans have largely benefited from the stock market gains, not blue-collar workers.

The problem with Trump claiming the stock market has helped working-class Americans is that the richest 10% of the country controls 84% of stock market value, according to a Federal Reserve survey. Because they hold more stocks, wealthier Americans have inherently benefited more from the 19% gain in the Standard & Poor’s index of 500 stocks so far this year. Only about half of U.S. families hold stocks, so plenty of people are getting little to no benefit from the stock market gains.

What Trump may be claiming with regard to the stock market is that working Americans are disproportionately benefiting in their 401(k) retirement savings.

Trump has said that 401(k) plans are up more than 50%. His data source is vague. But 401(k) balances have increased in large part due to routine contributions by workers and employers, not just stock market gains.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute shows that only one group of Americans has gotten an average annual 401(k) gain in excess of 50% during Trump’s presidency. These are workers age 25 to 34 who have fewer than five years at their current employer. At that age, the gains largely came from the regular contributions instead of the stock market. And the percentage gains look large because the account levels are relatively small.

TRUMP: “We have the best economy we’ve ever had.” — Fox News interview Thursday.

TRUMP: “We have the best economy in history.” — remarks Tuesday.

THE FACTS: No matter how often he repeats this claim, which is a lot, the economy is nowhere near the best in the country’s history.

In fact, in the late 1990s, growth topped 4% for four straight years, a level it has not reached on an annual basis under Trump. Growth reached 7.2% in 1984. The economy grew 2.9% in 2018 — the same pace it reached in 2015 under Obama — and simply hasn’t hit historically high growth rates.

The economy is now in its 121st month of growth, making it the longest expansion in history. Most of that took place under Obama.

TRUMP: “Most people working within U.S. ever!” — tweet Thursday.

TRUMP: “The most people working, almost 160 million, in the history of our country.” — remarks Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Yes, but that’s only because of population growth.

A more relevant measure is the proportion of Americans with jobs, and that is still far below record highs.

According to Labor Department data, 60.6% of people in the United States 16 years and older were working in June. That’s below the all-time high of 64.7% in April 2000, though higher than the 59.9% when Trump was inaugurated in January 2017.

TRUMP: “The best employment numbers in history.” — remarks Tuesday.

THE FACTS: They are not the best ever.

The 3.7% unemployment rate in the latest report is not a record low. It’s the lowest in 50 years. The rate was 3.5% in 1969 and 3.4% in 1968.

The U.S. also had lower rates than now in the early 1950s. And during three years of World War II, the annual rate was under 2%.

VETERANS

TRUMP, on his efforts to help veterans: “I got Choice.” — remarks Tuesday.

THE FACTS: He is not the president who “got” the Veterans Choice program, which gives veterans the option to see private doctors outside the Department of Veterans Affairs medical system at government expense.

Obama got it. Congress approved the program in 2014, and Obama signed it into law. Trump expanded it.

NATO

TRUMP: “We’re paying close to 100% on NATO.” — remarks Tuesday.

THE FACTS: The U.S. isn’t “paying close to 100%” of the price of protecting Europe.

NATO has a shared budget to which each member makes contributions based on the size of its economy. The United States, with the biggest economy, pays the biggest share, about 22%.

Four European members — Germany, France, Britain and Italy — combined pay nearly 44% of the total. The money, about $3 billion, runs NATO’s headquarters and covers certain other civilian and military costs.

Defending Europe involves far more than that fund. The primary cost of doing so would come from each member country’s military budget, as the alliance operates under a mutual defense treaty.

The U.S. is the largest military spender, but others in the alliance have armed forces, too. The notion that almost all costs would fall to the U.S. is false. In fact, NATO’s Article 5, calling for allies to act if one is attacked, has only been invoked once, and it was on behalf of the U.S., after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

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