Monthly Archives: July 2018

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday opened the door to a possible criminal case against the Donald J. Trump Foundation, but the state attorney general’s office said it had not determined that a criminal referral was warranted.

“At Governor Cuomo’s direction, the state stands ready to provide the (New York) Attorney General with the appropriate criminal referral on this matter if and when she asks for it,” Alphonso David, the governor’s counsel, said in a statement.

The state’s attorney general, Barbara Underwood, filed a civil lawsuit against President Donald Trump, three of his children and his foundation in June, saying Trump had illegally used the nonprofit as a personal “checkbook” for his own benefit, including his 2016 presidential campaign.

Underwood would need a criminal referral to file a criminal suit.

“We continue to evaluate the evidence to determine what additional actions may be warranted, and will seek a criminal referral from the appropriate state agency as necessary,” Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Underwood, said in a statement.

Underwood asked a state judge in June to dissolve the Foundation and to ban Trump, his sons Donald Jr. and Eric, and his daughter Ivanka from holding leadership roles in New York charities.

Reporting by Karen Freifeld; Writing by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Eric Beech

Mandatory Credit: Photo by REX/Shutterstock (8966556a) Ajit Varadaraj Pai testifies before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on his nomination to be a Member of the Federal Communications Commission on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. FCC Confirmation Hearing, Washington DC, USA - 19 Jul 2017

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission said late on Wednesday it had voted unanimously to refer Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc’s (SBGI.O) $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media Co (TRCO.N) to an administrative law judge, a blow to the firms’ chances of winning approval.

The decision came despite the company’s announcement it would not divest three television stations currently owned by Tribune in hopes of winning approval after FCC Chairman Ajit Pai raised “serious concerns” on Monday.

A hearing is likely to result in a significant delay and could effectively kill the deal, as has happened in other mergers referred for administrative proceedings. Two FCC officials who did not wish to be identified said Wednesday they believe the merger will not be able to proceed.

Sinclair, which owns the largest number of local TV stations in the U.S., had said it will drop plans to divest stations in Dallas, Chicago and Houston to “expedite” the transaction after the FCC suggested the company would still control the stations.

The Justice Department is also still reviewing the deal and the FCC may have other concerns.

The FCC said late Wednesday the commission had voted unanimously to adopt the hearing designation order regarding the deal and said it expected to release the order on Thursday.

Pai, whom Democrats have accused of making a string of decisions benefiting Sinclair, said Monday evidence suggested “certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law.”

Sinclair, which owns 192 stations, said it was “shocked and disappointed” by the FCC’s order and denied it was not in compliance with FCC rules or that it had engaged in misleading conduct.

It did not immediately comment on the FCC vote.

The draft order circulated by Pai’s office, part of which was seen by Reuters, said Sinclair’s actions around the divestiture of TV station WGN in Chicago “includes a potential element of misrepresentation or lack of candor.”

The revised order now raises questions about Sinclair’s representations about all three stations and its compliance with FCC broadcast ownership limits, a person briefed on the matter said.

The company had proposed to sell WGN in Chicago to a Maryland auto dealer who is a longtime business associate of Sinclair Executive Chairman David Smith, and would largely continue to operate the station under a services agreement.

Sinclair also said it was withdrawing plans to sell stations in Dallas and Houston to Cunningham Broadcasting Corp, a company controlled by the estate of Smith’s mother. Sinclair said Wednesday it now wants to put the two Texas stations into a divestiture trust to be sold and operated by an independent trustee.

Pai’s statement raising questions about whether Sinclair would continue to control some of the stations it proposes to divest followed similar questions raised in separate filings with the FCC last month by the American Civil Liberties Union and conservative news outlet Newsmax Media.

Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy said the “FCC and public shouldn’t be fooled by this last-minute effort by Sinclair. They must reject it. Sinclair has already demonstrated contempt for FCC rules and proper public disclosure.”

Tribune shares rose 2.3 percent on Wednesday while Sinclair closed down 2.3 percent.

Sinclair said in May 2017 it planned to acquire Chicago-based Tribune’s 42 TV stations in 33 markets.

In April, Sinclair said it would sell 23 TV stations to obtain regulatory approval. It needs FCC permission to own more than one station in some markets.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Chris Reese

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European antitrust regulators fined Google a record 4.34 billion euro ($5 billion) on Wednesday and ordered it to stop using its popular Android mobile operating system to block rivals, a ruling which the U.S. tech company said it would appeal.

The penalty is nearly double the previous record of 2.4 billion euros which Google was ordered to pay last year after its online shopping search service was deemed to be unfair to competitors.

It represents just over two weeks of revenue for Google parent Alphabet Inc and would scarcely dent the company’s cash reserves of $102.9 billion. But it could add to trade tensions between Brussels and Washington.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is due to meet U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House next Wednesday in an effort to avert Trump’s threatened new tariffs on cars made in the European Union as the president looks to reduce the U.S. trade deficit.

Alphabet, which is scheduled to report financial results on Monday, said it would set aside money to pay the fine which would cut its second-quarter profit by about $5 billion. Wall Street analysts were expecting $6.8 billion in quarterly profit on average before the fine, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Alphabet shares closed flat on Wednesday after technology analysts said the EU order would do little damage to the company’s long-term prospects.

CEMENTING DOMINANCE

Google’s Android system, which Google lets device makers use for free, runs about 80 percent of the world’s smartphones, according to market research firm Strategy Analytics.

According to the EU, Google’s illegal behavior dates back to 2011 and includes forcing manufacturers to pre-install Google Search and its Chrome browser together with its Google Play app store on their Android devices, paying them to pre-install only Google Search and blocking them from using rival Android systems.

“Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine” over rivals, EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager told reporters.

Google has 90 days to either halt such anti-competitive practices with smartphone makers and telecoms providers or seek a delay of the order while it appeals. Alphabet risks additional penalties of up to 5 percent of average daily global revenue for non-compliance.

Major Android smartphone makers including Samsung Electronics Co, Sony Corp, Lenovo Group Ltd and TCL Corp declined to comment on the EU case.

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai warned that Android may not remain free as a result of the EU ruling or it may shift to a tightly controlled distribution model like rival Apple Inc.

“We are concerned that today’s decision will upset the careful balance that we have struck with Android, and that it sends a troubling signal in favor of proprietary systems over open platforms,” Pichai said in a blog.

The head of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said on Wednesday he would closely review the European decision.

‘STABLE DOOR’

Vestager dismissed Google’s argument that it had competition from Apple, saying iPhones were not a sufficient check on Google’s dominance because they cost more and require users to exert significant effort to adopt.

“What would serve competition is to have more players,” she said.

Breaking up Google, a demand made by a number of Google foes, would not address the core problems, she told reporters.

GSMA, the global wireless carriers’ trade body, welcomed the ruling, saying services developed by its members can now better compete with software vendors.

Small Google search competitors such as Qwant and DuckDuckGo said they now stand better chance of getting promoted by device makers.

Lobbying group FairSearch, whose 2013 complaint triggered the EU investigation and whose members at the time included competitors like Oracle Corp, Nokia Oyj and Microsoft Corp, also welcomed the ruling, saying it could help restore competition in mobile operating systems and apps.

Industry analysts described the EU order as too late to reshape the industry.

“Any action by the EU is akin to shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted,” said Geoff Blaber of CCS Insight.

Polar Capital fund manager Ben Rogoff said: “The reality is that as long as they’re delivering great utility to their consumers, consumers will still use those platforms,” he said.

A third EU case against Google, which has not yet concluded, involves its AdSense advertising service which is accused of blocking users from displaying search advertisements from Google’s competitors. Google denies this.

The KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival keeps growing. The 2017 Fringebroke its previous records, attracting more than 78,000 people — a 15 percent increase from the year before. And audiences packed Parcel 5 both nights of “Friday & Saturday on the Fringe” to see the US debut of French company Plasticiens Volants perform its “BIG BANG” show.

The Rochester Fringe is now expanding to 11 days. Fringe organizers held its Big Reveal press conference on Tuesday at Eastman’s Hatch Recital Hall to announce the 2018 event’s full lineup, including more than 500 performances. The 7th annual Rochester Fringe Festival (the second with KeyBank as its title sponsor) takes place Wednesday, September 12, through Saturday, September 22, at venues in and around downtown Rochester.

The Fringe in June announced this year’s comedy headliner: English comedian, actor, and author Eddie Izzard will headline Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre on Friday, September 21, presenting his “Eddie Izzard: Believe Me” show.

At Tuesday’s Big Reveal organizers announced that this year’s “Friday & Saturday on the Fringe” spectacle will be enormous sing-a-longs with the London-based band Massaoke (literally massive karaoke) making its North American debut. Playing live hit music from the 1960’s through today, the audience joins along en masse to sing karaoke guided by lyrics on a big screen.

More than 150 shows during this year’s Fringe will be free, including a weekend of festival-curated entertainment on Gibbs Street, September 21 and September 22. This second weekend of Fringe includes more than a dozen bands and the third annual Fringe Street Beat. (Teams can now sign up for the hip-hop and all-style dance battle to compete for a $1,500 prize. Head to rochesterfringe.com to learn more.)

The Cristal Palace Spiegeltent and surrounding Spiegelgarden will again be set up at the corner of Gibbs and East Main, with Matt and Heidi Morgan — in their third Rochester Fringe appearance — premiering a new show. The daily show, “Cirque Du Fringe: Sideshow,” is inspired by the Golden Age of American circus and bears a vintage vibe.

The first weekend’s late-night, Spiegeltent show will be “Other People’s Shows,” a comedy featuring Rochester’s Unleashed! Improv’s interpretations of other Fringe productions based on their descriptions. The second weekend features “Shotspeare,” a rowdy adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” that’s also a drinking game.

Silent Disco — which has sold out for six years running — is back at 11 p.m. on both Fridays and Saturdays. And Disco Kids returns on Saturday, September 22, as part of a Kids’ Day that will also include chalk art, a Cirque du Fringe matinee, and pumpkin-painting. The popular, free Gospel Sunday event, hosted by Reverend Rickey Harvey, also returns this year to Kilbourn Hall on Sunday, September 16.

Escalating trade tensions are threatening to derail a global upswing that’s already losing momentum amid weaker-than-expected growth in Europe and Japan as financial markets seem complacent to the mounting risks, the International Monetary Fund warned.

The IMF kept is global forecast unchanged Monday in the latest update to its Global Economic Outlook. The world economy will grow 3.9 percent this year and next, said the Washington-based fund. The pace this year would be the fastest since 2011.

But cracks are forming in the growth picture. The global expansion is becoming less balanced, with growth sputtering in the Euro Area and Japan. Growth appears to have peaked in some major economies, and the boost from U.S. tax cuts and spending increases is expected to fade, according to the IMF.

At the same time, downside risks to the global economy are growing, led by the threat of a further ratcheting up of trade tensions, the IMF said.

“The risk that current trade tensions escalate further — with adverse effects on confidence, asset prices, and investment — is the greatest near-term threat to global growth,” IMF chief economist Maurice Obstfeld said in prepared remarks.

Can Trump Win a China Trade War? We May Soon Find Out: QuickTake

If threatened trade barriers become reality, global output could drop by about 0.5 percent below its projected level by 2020, Obstfeld said. The U.S. economy would be “especially vulnerable,” given it would be the focus of retaliation in a tit-for-tat conflict, Obstfeld said.

The IMF’s warning comes as President Donald Trump considers a range of further tariffs in his mission to level the playing field for U.S. companies and help American workers. The Trump administration this week released a list of $200 billion in Chinese imports — from televisions to pineapple juice and ski gloves — that may be targeted for duties, and his officials are also weighing tariffs on foreign cars.

With midterm elections in Congress looming in November, Trump is following through on campaign pledges to revive the nation’s manufacturing sector and cut America’s $552-billion trade deficit. But U.S. business groups have panned the tariffs, saying they’ll increase costs and raise prices for consumers. Countries from China to Canada have already retaliated against U.S. tariffs, raising the risk of a drawn-out global trade war.

Investors ‘Complacent’

The IMF projects the U.S. current-account deficit will widen, thwarting Trump’s plans to shrink it, as tax cuts and government spending increases boost demand for imports.

Obstfeld said investors seem “broadly complacent” about the risks facing the global economy, noting that asset prices remain high in many countries. Other risks include rising political uncertainty in Europe and the unresolved terms for Britain’s exit from the EU.

Financial markets are “susceptible to sudden re-pricing if growth and expected corporate profits stall,” he said.

The IMF left its forecast for the U.S. unchanged, predicting the world’s biggest economy will grow 2.9 percent this year before slowing to 2.7 percent in 2019. That’s short of the sustained 3 percent or more growth Trump has often suggested is on the way, and that officials including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have forecast will boost government receipts to offset reductions in corporate and personal tax rates.

Why Italian Politics Keep Roiling Financial Markets: QuickTake

The fund cut its growth projection for the euro area, which is now expected to expand 2.2 percent this year, down 0.2 percentage point from the IMF’s previous forecast, in April. The currency bloc will grow 1.9 percent next year, down 0.1 point from April.

Growth in Germany and France came in softer than expected in the first quarter, while political turmoil in Italy is expected to weigh on domestic demand, the fund said.

The fund also downgraded its forecast for Japan by 0.2 point this year to 1 percent growth, based on weak consumption and investment. Japan will grow 0.9 percent next year, unchanged from April, the IMF said.

Weaker Europe

The IMF cut growth forecasts for the euro area, the U.K. and Japan for 2018

China’s economy will expand at 6.6 percent in 2018 and 6.4 percent next year, both unchanged from four months ago, according to the fund.

The IMF also cut its forecast for the U.K. to 1.4 percent this year, down 0.2 point. U.K. growth will pick up to 1.5 percent next year, unchanged from April, the IMF said.

 

    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Donald Trump met one-on-one with Vladimir Putin behind closed doors on Monday in a long-awaited summit overshadowed by the U.S. president blaming his own country’s past “foolishness and stupidity” for the two powers’ hostile ties.

    Just days after a special prosecutor indicted 12 Russian agents for stealing documents from the Democratic Party to help Trump win the 2016 presidential election, Trump went into his talks with Putin without a word of criticism for Moscow.

    Instead, he tweeted: “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”

    FILE PHOTO: With the U.S. Supreme Court building in the background, Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh arrives prior to meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When it became clear that President Donald Trump was seriously considering nominating Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, the conservative judge’s former law clerks swung into action as among his most energetic public cheerleaders.

    But in making the case for him in the media on issues including his stance toward abortion, healthcare and an expansive view of religious liberty, they may have opened up lines of attack on Kavanaugh by Democrats and liberal advocacy groups seeking to derail his nomination in the U.S. Senate.

    Trump named Kavanaugh, 53, on July 9 to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Before he can assume the lifetime job on the nine-member court, the Senate must vote to confirm him. No date has yet been set for the customary Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings.

    Kavanaugh has served for 12 years on an influential federal appeals court in Washington. Several of the 48 lawyers who served as his clerks – a year-long job working for a judge, usually straight out of law school – appeared on cable TV shows, wrote opinion articles and spoke to reporters, often trying to shore up support among conservatives.

    Their comments may have helped Kavanaugh’s cause before Trump nominated him by pushing back on complaints by some conservatives that the judge would not lean far enough to the right on social issues like abortion as well as on a conservative legal challenge to the Obamacare healthcare law.

    But the chief threat to Trump’s nominee now is the Democratic campaign to block Kavanaugh’s confirmation in a Senate in which the president’s fellow Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority.

    Of the 48 clerks, 34 signed a letter calling for the Senate to confirm his appointment. Many secured prestigious Supreme Court clerkships after working for Kavanaugh and subsequently landed jobs at law firms, law schools and in government.

    ‘ROCK SOLID RECORD’

    One clerk, Sarah Pitlyk, wrote a piece for the conservative National Review a week before the nomination was announced in which she touted Kavanaugh’s “clear, consistent and rock solid record on the issues that matter most to social conservatives.”

    Pitlyk, who could not be reached for comment, said that “no court of appeals judge in the nation has a stronger more consistent record” than Kavanaugh on “protecting religious liberty and enforcing restrictions on abortion.”

    Democrats have raised the possibility that the Supreme Court, with Trump’s appointment of a second justice in Kavanaugh, could overturn the landmark 1973 ruling legalizing abortion nationwide. Conservatives had advocated a broad view of religious liberty and free speech, arguing for example that certain types of businesses can refuse to serve gay couples if they have a religious objection to same-sex marriage.

    Another clerk, Justin Walker, wrote an article in another conservative publication, The Federalist, defending Kavanaugh against criticism from the right about a 2011 opinion he wrote concerning Democratic former President Barack Obama’s 2010 healthcare law.

    Walker talked up Kavanaugh’s conservative credentials on Fox News ahead of the nomination. “He is a warrior with a backbone of iron,” Walker told Fox, also calling Kavanaugh “a fighter for conservative legal principles” who would not “go wobbly” if appointed to the Supreme Court.

    “I felt like his record was being misrepresented,” Walker said in an interview, adding that he was speaking only about Kavanaugh’s approach to the law, not his politics.

    Christopher Kang, who worked in the Obama White House and helped with the nominations of liberal Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, said he was surprised by some of the comments by Kavanaugh’s clerks.

    “I think that is really striking. We would not have used clerks to talk about a judge’s political philosophy,” said Kang, who now works for Demand Justice, a liberal group that opposes Kavanaugh’s nomination.

    Supreme Court nominees routinely try to avoid being pinned down during confirmation hearings on how they would rule on given issues, especially controversial ones like abortion. But some of the comments made by clerks, Kang said, will “make it harder” for Kavanaugh to fend off questions about whether he will rule conservatively on social issues.

    Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Will Dunham

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    MAYOR BYRON W. BROWN’S 

    Is the US president’s outburst to the Sun simply bad manners, or his latest attempt to undermine an old ally?

    By: Roger Wills

    He once likened his relationship with Theresa May to that between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Presumably that comparison is now cancelled.

    Donald Trump has once again torn up standard etiquette for diplomacy by turning up, not with flowers or a bottle of wine – but a verbal grenade. As he was setting off for his first visit to the UK as American president, he told the Sun that he advised Theresa May “how to do” Brexit but “she didn’t listen to me”.

    He also warned that a soft Brexit will probably kill any hope of a separate US-UK trade deal, which was supposed to be a centrepiece of Friday’s talks at Chequers. And to add insult to injury, he suggested that May’s nemesis, Boris Johnson, would “make a great prime minister”.

    Clearly, when in 2016 Trump declared himself “Mr Brexit”, he should have been taken both seriously and literally. His ego and belief in his own deal-making skills are such that he apparently thought he alone could fix it. Few observers believe that he has studied the vast mounds of paperwork or the complex web of laws involved.

    His outburst to the Sun – a Eurosceptic tabloid newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox News channel supplies many of Trump’s views and staff – could certainly be seen as bad manners, perhaps an act of revenge for the baby blimp set to take to the London sky on Friday.

    On another, equally Trumpian level, it might be regarded as his latest brazen attempt to undermine an old ally. Just as the president tore into Angela Merkel’s Germany over pastries and cheese before the Nato summit had even started, now he has May’s Britain in his sights.

    He is aware that May, like Merkel, is weakened and vulnerable domestically, and his past record suggests that he despises weakness. He has consistently expressed admiration, by contrast, for dictators such as Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un and Rodrigo Duterte.

    More than a year into his presidency, no one is quite certain whether this is due to an instinctive fascination with autocrats and the great man theory of history – or a deeper, more sinister effort to reorder the world in favour of rightwing demagoguery.

    For now, it means that Trump and May’s engagements – a joint forces military demonstration, a working lunch at Chequers and a joint press conference – promise the height of social awkwardness. Watch for the handshake – always a tell with Trump.

    Based on past, self-contradictory form, the president, when confronted by reporters, will probably seek to play down his negative comments about a bilateral trade deal, triggering a fresh set of headlines about how it might be back on.

    May, meanwhile, standing before the media and live TV cameras, will face calls to emulate Hugh Grant’s prime minister in the 2003 film Love Actually, who informs the American president: “A friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward I will be prepared to be much stronger.”

    Failing that, as Trump goes on to take tea with the Queen, the prime minister could always join the demonstrations on the streets of London. It seems she has nothing to lose.

     

     

    (Reuters) – A federal judge on Friday will consider imposing tougher rules on the U.S. government to ensure it reunites as many as 2,000 immigrant children with their parents by July 26.

    In a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, U.S. Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego ordered the government in June to reunite families that had been separated after crossing the U.S.-Mexican border. The government failed to meet a Tuesday deadline for reuniting an initial group of children under 5.

    About 46 of the 103 children remain separated because of safety concerns, the deportation of their parents and other issues, according to court documents.

    The government has said its efforts to reunite families were slowed by the need to conduct DNA testing and criminal background checks on parents and determine if they would provide a safe environment for the child.

    That has raised questions how the government will manage with the vastly larger number of children it still must reunite, a task the judge has called a “significant undertaking.”

    Late Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit that led to Sabraw’s order, said it wanted the judge to impose timelines on the government for background checks and to share information sooner in the process.

    The rights group said that a lack of information about where and when reunions would happen had led to potential dangers for families. In one case, the ACLU said, immigration officials reunited a mother with her 6-month-old daughter then dropped them alone at bus stop late at night.

    Sabraw will consider imposing those requirements on the government at a hearing on Friday at 1 p.m. PDT (2000 GMT) in San Diego.

    The government adopted its family separation policy as part of a broader effort to discourage illegal immigration earlier this year. The Trump administration buckled to intense political pressure and abandoned the policy in June.

    Reporting by Tom Hals; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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