Friday, September 29, 2017

U.S. to Collect Social Media Data on All Immigrants Entering Country - nytimes

WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security will soon begin collecting social media data from all immigrants entering the United States, part of what agency officials call an effort to more effectively screen those coming to the country but privacy advocates see as an unnecessary intrusion that would do little to protect national security.

The department will begin collecting the information on Oct. 18, the same day the Trump administration’s new travel ban on citizens of seven countries and restrictions on those from two others are set to take effect.

Green card holders and naturalized citizens will also have their social media information collected, with the data becoming part of their immigration file. It was unclear whether the monitoring would take place only in the application process or 

The department published the new requirement in the Federal Register last week, saying it would collect “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information and search results,” which would be included in an applicant’s immigration file. It said the data would come from “publicly available information obtained from the internet, public records, public institutions, interviewees, commercial data providers.”

“This would undoubtedly have a chilling effect on the free speech that’s expressed every day on social media,” Faiz Shakir, the national political director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “This collect-it-all approach is ineffective to protect national security and is one more example of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda.”

Efforts to collect social media information are not unique to the Trump administration. During the Obama administration, the department had begun asking visitors to voluntarily provide social media information, and had four pilot screening programs.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the part of the Department of Homeland Security that approves citizenship and green cards, has previously used social media as part of the screening process for Syrian refugees, but only when the person was flagged because of a hit in an intelligence database or when questions were raised during an interview with immigration officials. - Read More

U.S. to Collect Social Media Data on All Immigrants Entering Country ...

DHS planning to collect social media info on all immigrants | TheHill

The Department of Homeland Security has moved to collect social media information on all immigrants, including permanent residents and naturalized citizens.

new rule published in the Federal Register last week calls to include "social media handles and aliases, associated identifiable information and search results" in the department's immigrant files.

BuzzFeed News first reported the new rule on Monday. It is set to go into effect on Oct. 18 after a public comment period. 

According to BuzzFeed, the new rule could also affect U.S. citizens who communicate with immigrants on social media by making their conversations the subject of government surveillance. 

Homeland Security's inspector general published a report earlier this year concluding that DHS pilot programs for using social media to screen immigration applicants "lack criteria for measuring performance to ensure they meet their objectives."
"Although the pilots include some objectives, such as determining the effectiveness of an automated search tool and assessing data collection and dissemination procedures, it is not clear DHS is measuring and evaluating the pilots’ results to determine how well they are performing against set criteria," the report reads.
In May, the Trump administration approved a new questionnaire for visa applicants that requests social media handles for the past five years, as well as biographical information going back 15 years.
The rule filed last week, however, goes beyond would-be visitors to the U.S. and would also apply to those who have already obtained a green card or gone through the naturalization process.  - More

DHS planning to collect social media info on all immigrants

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Equifax Promises A New Lifetime Service, As New Leader Offers An Apology

Equifax is promising consumers new control over access to their personal credit data — for free, and for life — as interim CEO Paulino do Rego Barros Jr. apologized to people affected by the company's recent data breach. He said the company had failed to live up to expectations.

"On behalf of Equifax, I want to express my sincere and total apology," Barros wrote in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal.

In the piece published behind the Journal's online paywall, but that doesn't seem to have been reproduced on Equifax's own site, Barros also unveiled plans for a new credit-monitoring tool:

"By Jan. 31, Equifax will offer a new service allowing all consumers the option of controlling access to their personal credit data. The service we are developing will let consumers easily lock and unlock access to their Equifax credit files. You will be able to do this at will. It will be reliable, safe and simple. Most significantly, the service will be offered free, for life."

The new service, Barros said, is aimed at disrupting the cybercrime business and easing consumers' worries — as well as helping the company recover from what has been a disastrous incident.

Barros was named interim CEO this week, after Equifax's former chairman and CEO Richard F. Smith retired. The consumer credit reporting company has been criticized for a series of missteps that compounded consumers' frustration after the company was hacked and some 143 million consumers' financial and personal data was exposed. - Read More, NPR

Equifax Promises A New Lifetime Service, As New Leader Offers An Apology

Here's why California’s early 2020 primary is destined to pick the next president. (Nah, not really)

Woo-hoo! Now that Gov. Jerry Brown has signed the bill, it looks like California is moving up its 2020 presidential primary. Finally!

No more watching from the sidelines as small-fry states like Iowa and New Hampshire throw their weight around. - More, latimes

Here's why California’s early 2020 primary is destined to pick the next president. (Nah, not really)

Trump pitches tax plan as 'once-in-a-generation opportunity,' but leaves many issues unresolved

NATO Secretary General at joint press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, 27 SEP 2017

Opening remarks by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the joint press conference with President Ashraf Ghani and US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Presidential Palace, Kabul, Afghanistan, 27 September 2017. - More

NATO Secretary General at joint press conference in Kabul ... 

Secretary General wraps-up visit to Afghanistan, stresses NATO’s enduring support

NATO Secretary General Jens toltenberg concluded a two-day visit to Afghanistan on Thursday (28 September 2017), following a visit to NATO’s headquarters for southern Afghanistan. The Secretary General received operational briefings from senior military leaders at NATO’s Train Advise and Assist Command in Kandahar, and addressed troops from Allied and partner countries together with General Nicholson, the Commander of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.

During this visit to Afghanistan together with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary General Stoltenberg stressed NATO’s support for the Afghan people, for the government’s reforms, and for an Afghan-owned and led peace and reconciliation process. Speaking in Kabul on Wednesday (27 September 2017), Mr Stoltenberg acknowledged that NATO’s presence in Afghanistan has come “at great human cost”, but stressed that the costs of leaving would outweigh those of remaining. “If NATO leaves, we risk Afghanistan returning to a state of chaos: a safe haven for international terrorism.

Mr. Stoltenberg added that “NATO doesn’t quit when the going gets tough”, welcoming pledges by many nations to make further contributions to the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces and institutions. The Secretary General welcomed the fact that the Afghan forces “have come a very long way” with NATO’s help, and that they now “lead the fight against the Taliban and international terrorist groups”.- More
Secretary General wraps-up visit to Afghanistan, stresses NATO’s enduring support

Secretary General visits Kabul with Secretary Mattis, stresses NATO’s enduring support for Afghanistan
NATO Secretary General welcomes new US South Asia strategy

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

President of Afghanistan at joint press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan

Opening remarks by President Ashraf Ghani at the joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Presidential Palace, Kabul, Afghanistan, 27 September 2017. - More

President of Afghanistan at joint press conference in Kabul ... - YouTube

President Ghani’s Remarks At The Joint Press Conference

27 September 2017

I Welcome Secretary-General of NATO Stoltenberg and Defense Secretary of the United States General Mattis to Afghanistan.

First of all, I thank the NATO member countries for the continuous and sustained support, who have paid the ultimate sacrifices to provide security and fight against terrorism in our country. I particularly appreciate the continued sacrifices of the United States.

As President of Afghanistan, I am also grateful to our defense and security forces for their courage during the last three years. I thank the defense minister, minister of interior, Hanif Atmar and the rest of the leaders and specifically those sons of this soil who have rendered the unrivaled sacrifices for the defense of our land, constitution and religious values.

I would like to thank General Nicholson for his effective role in supporting our security and defense forces.

On behalf of the Afghan people, I thank President Trump and General Mattis, who finalized their strategy on Afghanistan and provided opportunity for success in countering terrorism and creating a political atmosphere for pursuing enduring and stable peace. I thank them because with the new strategy, all ambiguity in Afghanistan and the region is removed.

I also thank NATO’s Secretary-General, Mr. Stoltenberg, a friend of ours for his continued support for the resolute support mission in Afghanistan and his efforts to ensure security in the country.

Now that we have clarity from the US on their strategy, and General Mattis has decided to send new troops to Afghanistan, I hope that other members of NATO will respond positively to the request of General Nicholson and the Secretary-General to support and train the Afghan security and defense forces. - Read More

President of Afghanistan at joint press conference in Kabul ... - YouTube

President Trump Gives Remarks on Tax Reform

President Trump Gives Remarks on Tax Reform - YouTube - More

Trump proposal slashes taxes on businesses, the rich amid deficit worries

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Wednesday proposed the biggest U.S. tax overhaul in three decades, offering to cut taxes for most Americans but prompting criticism that the plan favors the rich and companies and could add trillions of dollars to the deficit.

The proposal, which the Republican president said was aimed at helping working people and creating jobs, faces an uphill battle in Congress with Trump’s own party divided and Democrats hostile.

Republicans plan to lower corporate income tax rates, cut taxes for small businesses, reduce the top income tax rate for individuals and scrap some widely used tax breaks including one that benefits people in high-tax states dominated by Democrats.

“It’s going to be something special,” Trump told reporters at the White House, touting it as “the largest tax cut essentially in the history of our country.”

The plan, forged during months of talks among Trump’s aides and top Republicans in Congress and embraced by big business, contained scant details about how to pay for the cuts without fueling deficits. 

The White House said that under the proposal typical middle-class families would have less of their income subject to federal income tax.

The plan would lower the top individual rate from to 35 percent from 39.6 percent, but also roughly double the standard deduction, a set amount of income exempt from taxation, for all taxpayers.

The plan foresees a 20 percent corporate income tax rate, down from the current 35 percent but not as low as Trump’s initial demand for 15 percent.

Republicans hold a thin 52-48 majority in the Senate and may need some Democrats on board to win passage. But Democrats said the plan would expand the federal deficit in order to deliver tax cuts to wealthy Americans rather than the middle-class families that Trump and Republicans say they are trying to help. - Read More

Trump eyes executive order on healthcare, vows another vote next year

NATO chief says Europe has interest in helping Afghanistan

KABUL (Reuters) - NATO countries have strong reasons to maintain support for Afghanistan and will respond to U.S. President Trump’s call for more troops and funding, the alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday.

“It is in the interest of Europe, of NATO allies to help stabilize Afghanistan,” Stoltenberg said during a visit to Kabul with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, which was overshadowed by a militant attack on Kabul airport.

Trump made clear last month that he expected NATO to step up its contribution in Afghanistan when he announced a tougher new strategy against the Taliban and other militant forces. However the political reaction in Europe has been mixed with little public appetite for more involvement.

In Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel is working to form a government after last weekend’s election, her conservative party backs the mission. But senior figures from her two likely coalition partners, the liberal Free Democrats and environmental Greens, have expressed scepticism.

In Italy, the anti-establishment 5-Star party, riding high in opinion polls ahead of elections early next year, has said it would pull Italy’s force of more than 1,000 troops out.

“Germany has been a strong supporter of the NATO mission in Afghanistan for many many years,” Stoltenberg said. “Germany is the lead nation in the north (of Afghanistan) and I‘m absolutely certain that Germany will continue to provide support.”

Stoltenberg said NATO assistance was aimed at ensuring Afghanistan did not become “a safe haven for international terrorism.” But he reiterated that NATO troops would not be returning to the combat role they ended in 2014 and would continue training and advising Afghan forces as well as providing equipment and funding.

“We are not going back to the big combat operations we had before. It will still be a non-combat operation.”

Stoltenberg said Afghan forces, which have suffered thousands of casualties fighting the insurgency, had been “managing a very difficult situation”. - Reuters

NATO chief says Europe has interest in helping Afghanistan

Mattis arrives in Afghanistan as rockets hit Kabul airport

KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited Kabul on Wednesday to pledge support for the government of President Ashraf Ghani, with the precarious security in the Afghan capital underlined by an attack on the airport hours after he touched down.

Arriving from India, where he sought support for the U.S. administration’s new South Asia security plan, Mattis said the United States was determined not to allow “a merciless enemy to kill its way to power”.

Promising a more “holistic” approach without fixed timetables and involving other countries in the region, including Pakistan, he said the Taliban would have to learn they could not defeat the government.

“I want to reinforce to the Taliban that the only path to peace and political legitimacy for them is through a negotiated settlement,” Mattis told a joint news conference with Ghani and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Standing alongside him, Ghani said his government “remains open to talks with the Taliban” as well as a peace strategy involving Pakistan.

“Whatever sacrifice it requires to bring enduring peace and security to this country, we’ll be committed to it,” he said.

The visit comes after U.S. President Donald Trump announced a new strategy for Afghanistan, promising a stepped-up military campaign against the Taliban who have gained ground as they seek to re-establish Islamic law after their 2001 defeat. - More, Reuters

Mattis arrives in Afghanistan as rockets hit Kabul airport

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Flow of refugees, migrants to Europe slows but sea journey remains deadly – UN

24 August 2017 – Fewer refugees and migrants arrived in Europe in the first half of this year, but the likelihood of dying among people seeking to reach Europe is still “alarmingly high,” the United Nations refugee agency today reported, calling for renewed commitments to protect people.

According to the report, Desperate Journeys, an estimated 2,253 people died or went missing at sea, and at least 40 died on land routes at or near European borders.

“Taking measures to reduce the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe, without at the same time stepping up peace-making, development, and safe pathways is morally unacceptable,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. “We can't afford to ignore abuses clearly taking place simply because they happen out of our sight.”

In terms of passage, the report shows that overall Mediterranean crossings fell sharply in the first half of this year compared with the same period in 2016, due mainly to a 94 per cent decline in people using the sea route from Turkey into Greece.

Meanwhile, crossings from North Africa to Italy have remained at around the same level as last year, The High Commissioner's Office (UNHCR) said, adding that violence and abuse along the journey is rife.

“Many of the migrants and refugees who have reached Italy from Libya have survived dangerous desert crossings and abuses that include sexual violence, torture, and abductions for ransom,” according to the report. “At sea, the risk of dying en route to Italy is one in 39.”

Some 11,400 of those who reached Italy in the first half of the year were children unaccompanied or separated from their families, according to the latest figures.

Many arrivals, amongst them children, were victims of sexual violence or trafficking. In all, over 40 per cent of asylum applicants in Italy between January and June qualified for protection of some kind, the UN agency noted. -  Read More
Flow of refugees, migrants to Europe slows but sea journey remains deadly – UN

Torture during interrogations not just wrong but also counterproductive – UN rights chief

22 September 2017 – The torture and ill-treatment of persons suspected of crimes is not only “deeply wrong” but, from an interrogator's perspective, also counterproductive, the United Nations human rights chief said today at an event held in New York.

“Abundant scientific and historical evidence demonstrates that the information yielded by people who are being subjected to violence is unreliable,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said at the event, entitled “Torture during Interrogations – Illegal, Immoral, and Ineffective.”

The torture of detainees, who are captive and cannot defend themselves, also creates enormous rage among their larger communities, he added. “By feeding the desire for vengeance, torture produces more hatred and more violence.”

The High Commissioner noted that people who are in police custody for a very broad range of reasons are frequently subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment. This is particularly true, he said, in the first hours and days after their arrest, when – although they should benefit from the presumption of innocence – suspects may have no access to legal assistance or independent medical examination, and have not been brought before a judge. - Read More
Torture during interrogations not just wrong but also counterproductive – UN rights chief

At UN Assembly, Saudi Arabia pledges to press ahead in combat against terrorism, extremism

German election results live: Angela Merkel's CDU largest party, record low for SPD, AfD to be third power in Bundestag

Chancellor Angela Merkel takes a hit but is set for a fourth term. Who will she pick as coalition allies? The Social Democrats sink to a new low, and the populist AfD will be the third power. Live updates here on DW.

What we know so far:  - Read More

German election results live: Angela Merkel′s CDU largest party

German election: Merkel wins fourth term but far-right AfD surges to third

Angela Merkel has secured a fourth term as German chancellor but with her authority diminished, after her conservative bloc secured the lead position in parliamentary elections but failed to halt the march of rightwing populists.

Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) was celebrating its historic third place success last night, having secured 13% of the vote, according to exit polls, marking the first time in almost six decades that an openly nationalist party will enter the Bundestag.

Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrat-led alliance secured 33% of the vote, according to exit polls, about 12 points ahead of her main rivals, Martin Schulz’s centre-left Social Democrats, which secured around 21 points, marking the poorest result for Germany’s oldest party since 1949 and pushing it on to the opposition benches.

Addressing CDU supporters in Berlin, a somewhat subdued-looking Merkel thanked “voters who put their trust in us”. Despite recognising that it was her party’s worst result since 1945, she said the “strategic goals” of the CDU’s election campaign had been reached, and gave her a clear mandate to form the next government. But she called the outcome “a result that was not as good as we had expected”.

She also promised to listen to the “concerns and anxieties” of AfD voters in order to win back their votes.

AfD’s propulsion into parliament just four years into its existence gives the country its first far-right force on the national stage since 1961, and a faction with the most substantial presence of rightwing extremists since the Nazi era.

AfD will become the third largest party and is on course to occupy 88 seats in the Bundestag, compared with 217 for the CDU/CSU and 137 for the the SPD. - Read More

Angela Merkel Wins Mandate For 4th Term Despite Diluted Support

Preliminary results show German voters gave Chancellor Angela Merkel a mandate for a fourth term Sunday, but with far fewer votes than needed for her to govern without forming a coalition.

Merkel had campaigned on her record as a highly respected leader not only in Germany, but also internationally, as well as record low unemployment and strong economic growth. But German unhappiness over her refugee policy that allowed more than a million asylum seekers into the country since 2015 was something she never fully recovered from.

"Merkel has become a very polarizing figure, something she never envisioned for herself, never saw happening," said Merkel biographer Stefan Kornelius, who is also foreign editor of Germany's daily Suedeutsche Zeitung. "As much as she pushed to the center on the refugee issue and brought in the left part of electoral voters in her camp," she lost voters to the right of the spectrum.

Those voters are among the many Germans who are sending a right-wing nationalist party to the German parliament for the first time since 1957. Preliminary results show Alternative for Germany, which was founded as a euroskeptic party in 2013, coming in third place with about 13 percent of the vote. - More

Angela Merkel Wins Mandate For 4th Term Despite Diluted Support

Friday, September 22, 2017

Trump, Ghani agree U.S. can help develop Afghanistan's rare earth minerals

(Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday backed having companies from the United States develop Afghanistan’s reserves of rare earth minerals, despite formidable obstacles to industrial mining in the country.

The comments, at a meeting in New York, were the latest in a series in which both U.S. officials and the Afghan government have emphasized the potential strategic value of Afghanistan’s vast and largely untapped mineral reserves.

Both leaders also reiterated their commitment to Trump’s new South Asia strategy to defeat terrorism.

But after 16 years in Afghanistan, the U.S. is looking for ways to offset the billions of dollars spent every year in propping up the government in Kabul and mining is increasingly being seen as a way to do that.

“They agreed that such initiatives would help American companies develop materials critical to national security while growing Afghanistan’s economy and creating new jobs in both countries, therefore defraying some of the costs of United States assistance as Afghans become more self-reliant,” the White House said.

The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated the potential value of Afghanistan’s minerals, including gold and gemstones as well as substances like lithium and rare earths vital in modern electronics, at as much as $1 trillion. - More, Reuters

Trump, Ghani agree U.S. can help develop Afghanistan's rare earth minerals

Thursday, September 21, 2017

‘We can’t build strong relationships if we refuse to have conversations,’ Canada’s Trudeau says at UN

21 September 2017 – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took the podium at the United Nations General Assembly today with condolences for those affected by recent successive natural disasters, including the earthquakes in Mexico and hurricanes in the Caribbean, saying his country is ready to a “lend a helping hand in whatever way it can.”

He spoke extensively on Canada’s indigenous people, of the injustices they face and the efforts being made to improve the relationship with First Nations, calling it “righting historical wrongs.” He noted how Canada is implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on a national level to improve their lives, saying that the Goals are “as meaningful in Canada as they are everywhere else in the world.”

The Prime Minister noted that his country fully supports the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “without qualification” and is working with Canada’s indigenous leaders to correct past injustices. “Indigenous Peoples will decide how they wish to represent and organize themselves,” he told the Assembly.

“We can’t build strong relationships if we refuse to have conversations. We can’t chart a more peaceful path if the starting point is suspicion and mistrust. And we can’t build a better world unless we work together, respect our differences, protect the vulnerable, and stand up for the things that matter most,” Mr. Trudeau concluded. - More
Full statement available here

‘We can’t build strong relationships if we refuse to have conversations,’ Canada’s Trudeau says at UN

A Conversation With Mohammad Ashraf Ghani - The Council on Foreign Relations

President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani discusses the challenges facing Afghanistan, including its fight against terror groups, and his country’s relationship with the United States.

MILIBAND: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I’m delighted to welcome you to this very special event here today with the president of Afghanistan, His Excellency Ashraf Ghani.

My name is David Miliband. I’m the president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, which I’m proud to say is an organization that has over 30 years of experience of humanitarian work for the people of Afghanistan.

I think there aren’t many heads of state who have a PhD from Columbia University. And I am sure that there isn’t another head of state who has written a book about fragile states and then been asked to go and lead a fragile state. But today we are in the very lucky position of being able to hear from President Ashraf Ghani, who has both of those attributes to his name. As you know, he’s been an incredible servant to his country, and you can see the full details of his biography on—in the pack that is on your seat. - More

A Conversation With Mohammad Ashraf Ghani | Council on Foreign ...

Islamic Republic of Afghanistan: President Ashraf Ghani - The Asia Society

The Asia Society is delighted to host His Excellency Dr. Ashraf Ghani, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, for an address, to be followed by a moderated discussion with Fareed Zakaria on the prospects for peace and security in Afghanistan. - Rad More

Trump’s war strategy hailed by Afghan president: ‘A difference of day and night’ - washingtontimes

President Trump received glowing praise Thursday from Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani for the new war strategy, which was credited for turning around the 16-year war against Taliban militants and other radical Islamic terrorists.

“It is a difference of day and night,” Mr. Ghani said at a meeting with Mr. Trump. “The cloud of uncertainty has been lifted, but equally important is your commitment to a political solution at the end of this process.”

Mr. Trump announced the new strategy a month ago. It included setting long-term goals for the war effort, sending more U.S. troops to train and assist the Afghan military and revisions rules of engagement.

Before Mr. Trump took office, President Obama had begun a drawdown of U.S. troops and then halted the pullout as conditions deteriorated.

Mr. Trump met with the Afghanistan president on the sidelines of the U.N. General  - Read More

Trump’s war strategy hailed by Afghan president: ‘A difference of day and night’