domains, hosting, seo, apps & news

Trump Dismisses Whistleblower Complaint as ‘Hack Job’ 

President Donald Trump irritably defended himself Friday against an intelligence whistleblower’s complaint, including an allegation of wrongdoing in a reported private conversation Trump had with a foreign leader. 
The complaint, which the administration has refused to let Congress see, is “serious” and “urgent,” the government’s intelligence watchdog said. But Trump dismissed the matter, insisting he did nothing wrong. 
He declared Friday that the complaint was made by a “partisan whistleblower,” though he later said he did not know the identity of the person. He chided reporters for asking about it and said it was “just another political hack job.” 
“I have conversations with many leaders. It’s always appropriate. Always appropriate,” Trump said. “At the highest level always appropriate. And anything I do, I fight for this country.” 
Some of the whistleblower’s allegations appear to center on Ukraine, according to a person familiar with the matter. The person was not authorized to discuss the issue by name and was granted anonymity. 
Trump, who sat in the Oval Office with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whom he was hosting for a state visit, was asked if he knew if the whistleblower’s complaint centered on a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The president responded “I really don’t know” but continued to insist any phone call he made with a head of state was “perfectly fine and respectful.” 

Intelligence director’s role
The standoff raises fresh questions about the extent to which Trump’s appointees are protecting the Republican president from oversight and, specifically, whether his new acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is working with the Justice Department to shield the president from the reach of Congress. 
It also plunged the Trump administration into an extraordinary showdown with Congress over access to the whistleblower’s Aug. 12 complaint as lawmakers press their oversight of the executive branch. 
The administration has kept Congress from even learning what exactly the whistleblower is alleging, but the intelligence community’s inspector general said the matter involves the “most significant” responsibilities of intelligence leadership. A lawmaker said the complaint was “based on a series of events.” 
The inspector general appeared before the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors Thursday but declined, under administration orders, to reveal to members the substance of the complaint.  

FILE – House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat, speaks to reporters after the panel met behind closed doors about a whistleblower complaint, at the Capitol in Washington, Sept. 19, 2019.

The chairman of the House committee said Trump’s attack on the whistleblower was “disturbing.” Representative Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told reporters it’s also “deeply disturbing” that the White House appears to know more about the whistleblower’s complaint than its intended recipient — Congress. 
The information “deserves a thorough investigation,” Schiff said. “Come hell or high water, that’s what we’re going to do.” 
Schiff, who said he was prepared to go to court to force the administration to open up about the complaint, said he was worried the president’s actions will have a “chilling effect” on other whistleblowers. 
House Democrats are fighting the administration separately for access to witnesses and documents in impeachment probes. Democrats are also looking into whether Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani traveled to Ukraine to pressure the government to aid the president’s re-election effort by investigating the activities of potential rival Joe Biden’s son Hunter, who worked for a Ukrainian gas company. 
Trump was asked Friday if he brought up Biden in the call with Zelensky, and he answered, “It doesn’t matter what I discussed.” But then he used the moment to urge the media “to look into” Biden’s background with Ukraine. 
During a rambling interview Thursday on CNN, Giuliani was asked whether he had asked Ukraine to look into Biden. Giuliani initially said, “No, actually, I didn’t,” but seconds later he said, “Of course I did.” 

‘On my own’
Giuliani has spent months trying to drum up potentially damaging evidence about Biden’s ties to Ukraine. He told CNN that Trump was unaware of his actions. 
“I did what I did on my own,” Giuliani said. “I told him about it afterward.” 
Later, Giuliani tweeted, “A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job.” 

Giuliani’s efforts have sparked anger among Democrats who have claimed that Trump, in the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, may have asked for foreign assistance in his upcoming re-election bid. 
Among the materials Democrats have sought is a transcript of Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky. The call took place one day after Mueller’s faltering testimony to Congress effectively ended the threat his probe posed to the White House. 
Schiff said he, too, could not confirm whether newspaper reports were accurate because the administration was claiming executive privilege in withholding the complaint. But letters from the inspector general to the committee released Thursday said it was an “urgent” matter of “serious or flagrant abuse” that must be shared with lawmakers.  

FILE – Retired Vice Adm. Joseph Maguire appears at a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 25, 2018. Maguire serves as acting national intelligence director.

The letters also made it clear that Maguire consulted with the Justice Department in deciding not to transmit the complaint to Congress, a further departure from standard procedure. It’s unclear whether the White House was also involved, Schiff said. 
Trump named Maguire, a former Navy official, as acting intelligence director last month, after the departure of Dan Coats, a former Republican senator who often clashed with the president, and the retirement of Sue Gordon, a career professional who held the No. 2 position. 
Maguire has refused to discuss details of the whistleblower complaint, but he has been subpoenaed by the House panel and is expected to testify publicly next Thursday. Maguire and the inspector general, Michael Atkinson, also are expected next week at the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

Atkinson wrote in letters that Schiff released that he and Maguire had hit an “impasse” over the acting director’s decision not to share the complaint with Congress. Atkinson said he was told by the legal counsel for the intelligence director that the complaint did not actually meet the definition of an “urgent concern.” And he said the Justice Department said it did not fall under the director’s jurisdiction because it did not involve an intelligence professional. 
Atkinson said he disagreed with that Justice Department view. The complaint “not only falls under DNI’s jurisdiction,” Atkinson wrote, “but relates to one of the most significant and important of DNI’s responsibilities to the American people.” 
The inspector general said he requested authorization to at the very least disclose the “general subject matter” to the committee but had not been allowed to do so. 

Bloomberg Journalists on Trial for Report on Turkey Economy

Two reporters for the U.S.-based Bloomberg news agency have appeared in court accused of trying to undermine Turkey’s economic stability with a story they wrote on last year’s currency crisis.

The trial against Kerim Karakaya and Fercan Yalinkilic opened in Istanbul on Friday. Thirty-six others have also been charged for their social media comments on the story written in August 2018, increasing concerns over media freedoms in Turkey.

The trial is part of a fierce crackdown on journalists and media outlets. The Turkish Journalists Syndicate says at least 126 journalists or media workers are currently in prison.

Karakaya and Yalinkilic face up to five-year jail terms if convicted.

Bloomberg has condemned the prosecution and defended the pair, saying they reported “fairly and accurately on newsworthy events.”


US Kid Population Shrinking Faster than Expected

Sixty years ago, children accounted for more than one-third — 36% — of the U.S. population. Today, that number is 22% and shrinking faster than anticipated.

The U.S. Census Bureau had not expected the kid population to drop that low until 2030, but the reality hit more than a decade ahead of projection.

Last year, the U.S. birth rate dropped to its lowest number in 32 years.  The births of 3,788,235 babies in 2018 is a 2% drop from 2017. That’s the lowest number of babies born in the U.S. since 1986.

The birth rates declined among all racial groups and all women under 35, while rising slightly for women in their late 30s and early 40s. 

And it’s a nationwide trend. Since 1990, child population rates have fallen off in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Center.

The biggest drops were in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The share of kids in each of those states decreased from 25% in 1990 to 19% in 2018. 

New Jersey experienced the smallest decline. Children accounted for 23% of the Garden State’s population in 1990 and 22% in 2018.

CLICK ON GRAPHIC TO ENLARGE — Courtesy Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Center

Meanwhile, the overall adult population has continued to climb since 2009.

The decline in births might be attributable to the fact that young American adults in their 20s and 30s, among the hardest hit by the Great Recession of 2007-2009, are still recovering professionally and financially from their rough entry into the workforce, prompting them to postpone starting their families.

Meanwhile, the graying of America continues. By 2030, all Baby Boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — will be over the age of age 65, meaning that 1 in every 5 residents will be of retirement age.

Experts had expected the U.S. birth rate to stabilize by now. America’s senior citizens will need more young workers, not fewer, to help bolster economic safety net programs like Social Security, which was designed in 1935 primarily to provide retired workers with a continuing income.

The program currently also serves disabled workers and their dependents as well as survivors of deceased workers.

In 2014, there were 35 workers per every 100 people drawing Social Security benefits. By 2030, the number of workers is projected to drop to 44 for every 100 beneficiaries.

As of June 2018, about 175 million workers paid Social Security taxes while approximately 62 million people received monthly Social Security benefits.

Senate Tech Critic to Facebook CEO: Sell WhatsApp, Instagram

As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met Thursday with President Donald Trump and other critics of the tech industry, the Senate’s most vocal detractor offered a challenge: Sell your WhatsApp and Instagram properties to prove you’re serious about protecting data privacy.

It may have been more than Zuckerberg expected from his private meeting with Sen. Josh Hawley, a conservative Republican from Missouri, in his Capitol Hill office. Zuckerberg left the hourlong meeting — one of several with lawmakers on Capitol Hill — without answering questions from a throng of reporters and photographers pursuing him down a hallway.

FILE – Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speaks during a hearing of a Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, March 6, 2019.

Hawley, though, had plenty to say. “The company talks a lot. I’d like to see some action,” he told reporters. “I will believe Facebook when I see some real action out of Facebook.”

Rather than moving users’ personal data from properties such as WhatsApp and Instagram to the core Facebook platform, the company should put a wall around the services or, better yet, sell them off, Hawley said he told Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg, who requested the meeting, “did not think that was a great idea,” he said.

Zuckerberg “had a good, constructive meeting with President Trump at the White House today,” a Facebook spokesman said. On Facebook and Twitter, Trump posted a photo with the caption, “Nice meeting with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook in the Oval Office today.”

Nice meeting with Mark Zuckerberg of @Facebook in the Oval Office today.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 20, 2019

No details were given on the meeting, first reported by the Axios website.
Trump has persistently criticized social media companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon and his platform of choice, Twitter, embracing conservative critics’ accusations that they censor religious, anti-abortion and politically conservative views. Trump has claimed, without evidence, that the companies are “against me” and even suggested U.S. regulators should sue them on grounds of anti-conservative bias.  
A Facebook spokesman declined to comment on Hawley’s remarks concerning his meeting with Zuckerberg.

The popular services WhatsApp and Instagram are among some 70 companies that Facebook has acquired over the past 15 years or so, giving it what critics say is massive market power that has allowed it to snuff out competition.

Zuckerberg’s discussion with Hawley touched on industry competition, data privacy legislation, election security and accusations by conservatives that Facebook and other social media giants are biased against right-leaning content.

FILE – Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 30, 2019.

During his visit, Zuckerberg also met with other senators including Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee; Mike Lee, R-Utah, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee; and John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark. He also declined to answer reporters’ questions when he left Lee’s office earlier in the afternoon.

Lee’s office said the two discussed bias against conservatives on Facebook’s platform, regulation of online services, enforcement of antitrust laws in the tech industry and data privacy issues.

Congress has been debating a privacy law that could sharply rein in the ability of companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple to collect and make money off users’ personal data. A national law, which would be the first of its kind in the U.S., could allow people to see or prohibit use of their data.

‘New rules’ needed

Acting preemptively, Zuckerberg last spring called for tighter regulations to protect consumers’ data, control harmful online content, and ensure election integrity and data portability. The internet “needs new rules,” he said.

It was Zuckerberg’s first public visit to Washington since he testified before Congress last spring about privacy, election interference and other issues.

Facebook, a social media giant based in Menlo Park, California, with nearly 2.5 billion users, is under heavy scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators following a series of privacy scandals and amid accusations of abuse of its market power to squash competition.

The Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee are all conducting antitrust investigations of the big tech companies, and a bipartisan group of state attorneys general has opened a competition probe specifically of Facebook.

FILE – Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Mark Warner, D-Va., departs after a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 9, 2019.

At Facebook’s request, Warner helped organize a dinner meeting in Washington on Wednesday night for Zuckerberg and a group of senators.

Warner told The Associated Press he wanted Zuckerberg to hear his Senate colleagues’ “enormous concerns about privacy and about protecting the integrity of our political system.”

Their message for the Facebook chief was “self-regulation is not going to be the answer,” Warner said. “I think Zuckerberg understood that.”

Warner and Hawley have proposed legislation that would force the tech giants to tell users what data they’re collecting and how much it’s worth. The proposal goes to the heart of Big Tech’s hugely profitable business model of commerce in users’ personal data. The companies gather vast data on what users read and like, and leverage it to help advertisers target their messages to individuals they want to reach.

The tech companies view with particular alarm a separate legislative proposal from Hawley that would require them to prove to regulators that they’re not using political bias to filter content. Failing to secure a bias-free audit from the government would mean a social media platform loses its long-held immunity from legal action.

​​​​​​​Millions of Youths to Strike for Climate Action 

With world leaders about to gather in New York for a U.N. Climate Action Summit next week, millions of young people from Australia to Iceland will take off from school or work on Friday to demand urgent measures to stop environmental catastrophe. 

Protests, inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, 16, are planned in 150 countries. The aim is for students and others from around the world to speak in one voice about the impending effects of climate change on the planet. 

“Soon the sun will rise on Friday the 20th of September 2019. Good luck Australia, The Philippines, Japan and all the Pacific Islands. You go first!” Thunberg posted Thursday on Instagram. 

Solo start

Thunberg has galvanized young people around the world since she started protesting alone with a sign outside the Swedish parliament building in August 2018. Over the past year, young people in other communities have staged scattered strikes in solidarity with her Fridays for Future movement. 

FILE – Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, speaks in front of a crowd of people after sailing into New York harbor aboard the Malizia II, Aug. 28, 2019.

In conjunction with the U.N. summit this week, organizers on Friday will hold coordinated strikes around the world for a third time, with Thunberg spearheading a march and rally in New York, home of U.N. headquarters. 

In a show of support, New York City education officials will excuse the absences of any of its 1.1 million public school students who want to participate. 

Demonstrators will gather in Lower Manhattan at noon and march about a mile to Battery Park at the edge of the financial district for a rally featuring speeches and music. 

Thunberg, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in March, sailed to New York from England aboard a zero-carbon-emissions vessel to partake in the U.N. summit. 

It brings together world leaders to discuss climate change mitigation strategies, such as transitioning to renewable energy sources from fossil fuels. 

Effects being felt

Global warming caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels has already led to droughts and heat waves, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and floods, scientists say. 

Carbon emissions climbed to a record high last year, despite a warning from the U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October that output of the gases must be slashed over the next 12 years to stabilize the climate. 

FILE – Youths demonstrate for climate change during a “Fridays for Future” school strike, in front of the Ecology Ministry in Paris, France, Feb. 15, 2019.

Organizers said the demonstrations would take different forms, but all aim to promote awareness of climate change and demand political action to curb contributing factors to climate change, namely carbon emissions. 

Demonstrators in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa, planned to dance on the beach in a celebratory pledge to protect their natural heritage. Protesters in Istanbul were heading to a public park for a climate festival with concerts and workshops scheduled throughout the day. 

On Wednesday, Thunberg appeared before several committees of the U.S. Congress to testify about the next generation’s view on climate change. In lieu of testimony, she submitted a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that urged rapid, unprecedented changes in the way people live to keep temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees C by 2030. 

“I want you to unite behind the science. And then I want you to take action,” she said. 

More International Cooperation Called Key to Curbing North Korea’s Sanction Evasion

Christy Lee contributed to this report, which originated with VOA’s Korean Service.

WASHINGTON — Increased international cooperation is essential for curtailing the ship-to-ship transfers that Pyongyang continues to use to evade sanctions, said a former United Nations panel expert on North Korean sanctions enforcement.

“Every member state (of the United Nations) has one or two pieces of the puzzle,” said Neil Watts, a maritime expert who served as a member of the United Nations panel that monitors North Korea sanctions compliance from 2013 to 2018. “And if they all cooperate, they can put together the full picture.”

North Korea seemingly is receiving a steady supply of oil through illegal transshipments, said Watts, as indicated by fuel prices that he said have been stable for the last 18 months in North Korea.

Two essential tactics

Watts told VOA’s Korean Service Tuesday that two things are essential for going after Pyongyang’s illicit ship-to-ship transfers at sea: Identify key North Koreans driving illicit transshipping networks, and follow the money trails.

FILE – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends the testing of a super-large multiple rocket launcher in North Korea, in this undated photo released Sept. 10, 2019, by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency.

Watts said there are a handful of key North Korean individuals whom the country relies on to operate illicit networks for ship-to-ship transfers.

“It’s an activity that involves a number of characters. But you can be sure that there are only a few trusted individuals from (the) North Korean side that are making these arrangements with complicit actors.”

Then, Watts suggested following the money trail to disrupt North Korea’s networks that involve numerous front companies and banks in different countries that coordinate deceptive shipping practices to evade sanctions.

“One needs to find the money trails,” he said, “because it’s substantial amounts of money involved. They always make sure that the money is deposited beforehand. … The key is also to find which companies are involved so that you can identify the banks involved and thereby contact the banks to curtail the banks keeping the money for these North Korean entities that are used to pay for the transactions.”

Watts said this is possible only when U.N. member states investigate and share information among themselves and with the maritime and shipping industries.

“One can go a lot further in terms of cooperation between the member states and the maritime industry involving the brokers or the commodity brokers, the shipping industry,” he said.

According to Watts, North Korea operates its illegal networks across borders to make it difficult for authorities to track down foreign individuals and companies involved in ship-to-ship transfers. This setup also makes it difficult to find North Korean entities overseeing the activities designed to evade sanctions.

“The North Koreans, knowing full well that should they involve companies and entities that are in multiple jurisdictions, it makes it very hard to follow the trails back to these individuals that are driving it from the North Korean side,” he said.

Watts said North Korea uses ship-to-ship transfers as a primary method to evade sanctions and obtain fuel because it knows monitoring and interdicting illicit practices in international waters are difficult.

“International waters are often in disputed areas of jurisdiction, also, and they take advantage of that, as well,” he said.

FILE – This Japan Ministry of Defense photo shows North Korean-flagged tanker SAM JONG 2, bottom, alongside MYONG RYU 1, a vessel of unknown nationality, in the East China Sea, May 24, 2018, in a suspected illegal transferring of fuel.

North Korea uses several deceptive shipping practices such as removing a flag, name, and identification number of a vessel it uses. It also turns off the transponders, called an automatic identification system (AIS), that sends off its location and identification to nearby ports and ships.

“What has been done in the commercial sector is to get companies to include in contracts no switching off AIS as a clause to say that there’ll be severe penalties,” Watts said. “In the case of insurers,” he added, “they would lose the insurance.”

Illegal history

There is a history to North Korea’s use of illicit ship-to-ship transfers.

In 2017, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution banning sales of Pyongyang’s key export commodities, including coal and seafood, in order to cut off its foreign sources of income — money needed to support its nuclear weapons program. In the same year, the council also prohibited North Korea from importing more than 500,000 barrels of refined petroleum per year.

This satellite image from the Department of Justice shows what it says is the North Korean cargo ship Wise Honest docked at an unknown port. The Trump administration has seized the North Korean cargo ship used to supply coal in violation of international sanctions, May 9, 2018.

More recently, on Aug. 30, the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted two Taiwanese-based individuals and two Taiwanese-based companies, and a Hong Kong-based company, for helping North Korea evade sanctions. It also listed a tanker suspected of transferring oil to North Korean ships and in connection to all three companies and two individuals. 

In its interim report released in August, the U.N. Panel of Experts said North Korea exceeded the cap on refined petroleum in the first four months of the year and continued to violate sanctions through illicit ship-to-ship transfers.

In June, the U.S. and dozens of other countries claimed North Korea violated a U.N. sanctions cap on fuel imports by using at least eight illegal ship-to-ship transfers and 72 illegal deliveries.

Warren Surging in Democratic Presidential Race

A new poll shows Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren surging into second place in the Democratic presidential race behind former Vice President Joe Biden.  The NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll found Biden leading the Democratic field with 31% support, followed by Warren at 25% and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in third place with 14%. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has the latest on the Democratic primary race from Washington.

African Children Will Make up Half of World’s Poor by 2030

More than 150 world leaders are preparing to attend the U.N. Sustainable Development Summit in New York beginning Sept. 25, with the aim of agreeing on a new agenda to tackle global poverty. But a new report warns that African children are being left further and further behind and will make up more than half of the world’s poor by 2030. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the report authors are critical of both African governments and the international community for failing to adequately tackle the problem.

American Dream: Ukrainian Immigrants Bring Taste of Europe to Washington

The American Dream is many things to many people. For the Savchuk family who came to the U.S. from Ukraine more than 15 years ago, achieving their dream meant opening a small business and making a decent living. VOA’s Iryna Matviichuk met with the family and saw their dream come true.

Iran Suspended From World Judo Over Israel Boycott Policy

Iran has been suspended from international judo competitions because it boycotts bouts with Israeli athletes.

Less than a month after world champion Saeid Mollaei walked off the Iranian team in protest at the boycott policy, the International Judo Federation said Wednesday that Iran is suspended ahead of a full hearing.

Iran’s judo federation is accused of discriminating against Israeli athletes and breaking rules over manipulating competition results.

“The IJF Executive Committee considered that such a conduct is intolerable,” the federation said.

Mollaei has said he was repeatedly ordered by Iranian officials to lose matches or withdraw from competitions, including last month’s world championships, so as not to face Israelis. He is currently in hiding in Germany.

Iran does not recognize Israel as a country, and Iranian sports teams have for several decades had a policy of not competing against Israelis.

It’s not yet clear if the IJF will seek to stop Iran competing in the 2020 Olympic judo events. Meanwhile, the IJF is exploring ways to allow Mollaei to compete on the International Olympic Committee’s team of refugees.

The IOC has signaled a harder line on boycotts in recent years.

In June, IOC president Thomas Bach criticized governments who “clearly abuse sport for their political purposes,” noting a case in May of a Tunisian court blocking four Israelis from competing at the taekwondo junior world championships.