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Cryptocurrencies, digital tax top agenda for G-7 meeting
By DAVID McHUGH and THOMAS ADAMSON | Tue, July 16, 2019 05:16 EDT
PARIS (AP) — Finance officials from the Group of Seven rich democracies will weigh risks from new digital currencies and debate how to tax tech companies like Google and Amazon when they meet at a chateau north of Paris starting Wednesday.
Those issues, raised by the impact of digitalization on the world economy, are at the top of the agenda for a two-day gathering hosted by French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and including U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The finance ministers are meeting in the town of Chantilly to prepare the ground for a summit of the G-7 heads of state and government, scheduled for Aug. 24-26 in the French Basque Country resort of Biarritz.
Hanging over the ministers when they sit down for a working dinner Wednesday: slowing global growth and the America-first trade policies of U.S. President Donald Trump, which have led to a tariff war with China and tensions with Europe.
The G-7 countries are Europe’s Germany, France, Britain and Italy, plus Canada, Japan and the United States.
Europe and the U.S. have exchanged a limited number of tariffs but Trump has threatened more damaging ones on European auto imports in an attempt to renegotiate overall trade relations.
The talks have been slow as the two sides differ on whether agricultural as well as industrial products should be included. The U.S. wants to include farm products and the Europeans do not.
Those disagreements could be exacerbated by a newer point of contention: host France’s decision to impose a 3% tax on the revenues of giant tech companies, which are mainly American.
The tech companies do huge business across Europe but pay taxes only in the European Union nation where their local headquarters are based, often a low-tax haven like Luxembourg or the Netherlands. The result is they pay a far lower rate than traditional businesses.
The U.S. has advocated a broader international approach being developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based organization representing much of the more developed world.
U.S. officials have said they’re investigating the French move as a possible unfair trade practice that could lead to retaliation. Mnuchin told journalists Monday that “this will definitely be high on the agenda.”
Le Maire, in turn, said the French tax was intended to spur international action: “As soon as there will be an international solution, we will withdraw the national taxation.”
“I will urge my American friends, instead of … threatening France through sanctions to go the way of dialogue and entering into a fair negotiation to find a compromise at the level of the G-7, so that we will give a new impetus to the work that is currently done in the OECD,” he said.
Where the U.S. may find more common ground with its G-7 partners will be in its mistrust of cryptocurrencies like Facebook’s recently announced Libra. Mnuchin said the U.S. Treasury Department has “very serious concerns that Libra could be misused by money launderers and terrorist financers… This is indeed a national security issue.” Le Maire has voiced similar concerns and has commissioned a report by top central bankers.
Libra would be based on distributed technology similar to that which underpins Bitcoin, but with key differences. Bitcoin’s value fluctuates, limiting its use to pay for things. In contrast, Facebook hopes to keep the value of the Libra fairly steady by tying it to a basket of major currencies. The social network envisions it as a way to send money around the world without significant fees. Facebook won’t run Libra directly but instead is setting up a nonprofit with its partners to oversee the new currency.
A broader issue is the state of international cooperation represented by the G-7 itself.
Trump has disrupted earlier summits by refusing to sign on for final statements, which traditionally summarize the group’s shared views on key issues like global warming. U.S. officials have also spiked earlier language explicitly rejecting trade protectionism such as tariffs. After last year’s G-7 hosted by Canada, Trump retracted U.S. support for the meeting’s joint statement and tweeted criticism of the host, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Le Maire is hoping that unity will win out over divisions.
“Since we are facing an unstable world, we are facing key challenges related to global warming, to the rise of new technologies, the new power of China, reinforcing the G-7 should be our common goal,” he said.
Mnuchin said the meeting could end with a chairman’s report of the discussion rather than a final statement signed by all, depending on how the host government wants to handle things.
McHugh contributed from Frankfurt, Germany. Martin Crutsinger in Washington and Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this report.
EarthLink – News
Camper chased by man with knife glad to be back with family
Tue, July 16, 2019 08:01 EDT
BISHOP, Calif. (AP) — A woman missing for three days after disappearing from a remote campground in California’s White Mountains on Tuesday described a man she says chased her with a knife as a burly, bald “big guy” with tanned skin.
Sheryl Powell, of Huntington Beach, California, detailed what it was like to be missing what she remembers of the man during an appearance Tuesday on NBC’s “Today” show.
Powell, 60, said she was told to do what he said and he would refrain from using the knife on her and her small dog.
She said she was able to run away from the man Friday, and survived by drinking water from a small spring. Search and rescue teams found her and the dog, Miley, on Monday.
“I’m happy to be here to tell my story,” Powell said.
Her husband, Joseph Powell, said he was moving their Jeep while she walked their small dog, when they both disappeared without a trace. He searched for nearly an hour for them, and then contacted authorities.
“Yesterday I was saddest man on the planet and today I’m the happiest man on the planet,” Joseph Powell said Tuesday. “It’s a miracle. I got my wife back.”
There has been no sign of the man and the Inyo County sheriff’s office is actively investigating the circumstances surrounding her disappearance but can’t release any other information, said spokeswoman Carma Roper.
“Now that we have transitioned from active search and rescue into an investigation there aren’t a lot of public details we can release,” Roper said.
The White Mountains lie east of the Sierra Nevada range and northwest of Death Valley National Park. Grandview Campground is at an elevation of 8,600 feet (2,621 meters) near the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, 230 miles (370 kilometers) north of Los Angeles.
It is prized by star gazers for sky vistas far from city lights, according to the Inyo National Forest. The nearest civilization is a 16-mile (25.8-kilometer) drive to the town of Big Pine down in Owens Valley.
The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest has trees that are more than 4,000 years old, the oldest in the world.
EarthLink – News
Appeals court: NYC can ban ads in Uber and Lyft cars
By LARRY NEUMEISTER | Tue, July 16, 2019 01:16 EDT
NEW YORK (AP) — Drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft in New York City can be banned from displaying advertisements in their vehicles, a federal appeals court said Tuesday.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the ban does not violate the First Amendment as it reversed a February 2018 lower-court decision that concluded the city could not justify its regulations.
The appeals panel sided with the city, citing its interest in protecting citizens “from the offensive sight and sounds of advertisements — not their content — while they are traveling through the city by car.”
“This is as true in publicly regulated transportation as it is anywhere else in the city,” according to the ruling written by 2nd Circuit Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann.
The ruling came in a case brought by Vugo Inc., a Minnesota company that sued the city in 2015 after the Taxi and Limousine Commission prohibited the ads in vehicles that were not medallion taxis or street-hail liveries.
Across the country, the company puts digital content in vehicles driven for ride-share companies. Advertisers pay Vugo to display content and the company passes 60 percent of advertising revenue to drivers.
A message was left with company executives.
The city has said about 20,000 vehicles in the city carry digital taxi content while more than 73,000 vehicles are banned from doing so.
According to 2016 facts in the court record, taxis accounted for over 370,000 daily trips while Uber provided nearly 180,000 daily trips and Lyft added another 33,000 trips each day.
The appeals court said the city was not being discriminatory by letting medallion taxis and street-hail liveries include credit card machines carrying advertisements in their vehicles.
“The Taxi TV exception reflects the city’s reasonable decision that the costs of permitting advertisements in taxicabs were outweighed by the benefits of compensating taxicab owners for the expense of installing new equipment that facilitated credit card payment and improved ride data collection,” the 2nd Circuit said.
The appeals court said that exception “neither reflects discriminatory intent nor renders the ban ineffective at improving the in-ride experience for millions of New York City residents and visitors.”
EarthLink – News
Making an immigration arrest requires hours of surveillance
By ELLIOT SPAGAT | Tue, July 16, 2019 03:07 EDT
ESCONDIDO, Calif. (AP) — Two immigration officers had been parked outside a home well before dawn when their target — a Mexican man convicted of driving under the influence in 2015 — appeared to emerge as the sun illuminated a gray sky.
“I’m going to do a vehicle stop,” an officer radioed. “I’m right behind you,” said another, lights flashing as they ordered the driver into a liquor store parking lot.
As it turned out, the man they pulled over was not the one they were looking for. But he happened to be in the country illegally, too, and was taken into custody.
The arrest last week near San Diego illustrates how President Donald Trump’s pledge to deport millions of immigrants in the U.S. without legal permission would be highly impractical to carry out, maybe impossible. For U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, picking up people is a time-consuming, labor-intensive and not-always-successful task.
An arrest of just one immigrant often requires days of surveillance.
At the same time, ICE has a limited budget and a shortage of detention space. Also, more and more law enforcement agencies, especially those in big cities, are refusing to help ICE as part of the growing “sanctuary” movement, slowing down the arrests of immigrants even more.
ICE tactics are in the spotlight amid warnings from the Trump administration that it would begin a sweep Sunday in 10 cities against families who are in the country illegally and have been ordered to leave. Trump claimed on Monday that the operation had a successful start, even though there was no sign of a large-scale operation in those cities.
In the recent San Diego operation, officers made 20 arrests over five days. They wore bulletproof vests emblazoned “ICE” on the back and used several unmarked SUVs, immediately ordering those in custody to turn off their phones to prevent family and friends from tracking their movements.
Gregory Archambeault, ICE director of field operations in San Diego, said staking out targets can be like watching paint dry.
“Today it happened pretty quickly, but other times it can take several hours. We have to go back different days,” Archambeault said in the parking lot of a bus and train station where immigrants waited in a bus to be processed.
An estimated 11 million people are in the U.S. illegally, including 525,000 who have deportation orders against them and are considered fugitives. Those fugitives include 2,000 people who recently came as families and are targets of the operation that was expected to begin Sunday.
ICE operations that zero in on people with criminal convictions in the U.S. result in about 30% of targets being arrested, plus an unknown number of non-targets, or “collaterals,” who are also swept up, ICE officials said. ICE operations against families have proved even less successful, capturing only about 10 percent of the targets, ICE acting Director Matthew Albence said.
ICE officers don’t have warrants that would allow them to enter homes, a fact that immigrant advocates have successfully publicized in encouraging people not to open their doors. For safety reasons, officers in San Diego have stopped “knock-and-talks” — knocking on the door and hoping someone opens up — and instead wait for targets to leave the house, Archambeault said.
“You just don’t know what’s going on, who’s behind that door,” he said.
It is far less costly and more effective for ICE to pick up people at local jails when they are arrested for non-immigration offenses. But a spate of sanctuary laws has sharply limited local authorities’ cooperation in California and elsewhere.
Escondido, a suburb of 150,000 people that is more than half Latino, had an extraordinarily close alliance with ICE that allowed immigration officers to work at police headquarters and coordinate on vehicle stops. That partnership ended under a state law that took effect last year.
Before making arrests in San Diego, ICE had to line up detention space. The agency, which made about 160,000 arrests during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, is housing an all-time high of about 53,000 people, largely because of an unprecedented surge of Central American families arriving at the Mexican border. Family beds are scarce, and ICE’s only family detention centers are in Pennsylvania and Teas.
Immigration authorities have used hotels to hold families while they wait to be transferred or deported. But Best Western and Marriott say they won’t work with ICE.
Central American families are typically held for a week or two while authorities arrange travel documents and a chartered or commercial flight to their homeland, Albence said. The San Diego targets were Mexican adults, who can usually be sent home by land more quickly.
The man taken into custody in Escondido was a Mexican man who happened to borrow the target’s red pickup to get to work at a landscaping company. Immigration activists decry such collateral arrests, which were sharply curtailed during President Barack Obama’s second term. Trump administration officials are unapologetic.
“It’s not the target, but it’s still a good arrest,” Archambeault said.
EarthLink – News
Venezuela frees musician jailed after blasting government
Tue, July 16, 2019 10:33 EDT
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Authorities in Venezuela on Tuesday released from prison a young musician who was jailed six weeks ago after taking to social media to vent her frustration against President Nicolás Maduro’s government
Karen Palacios blasted the government in a message that went viral after losing her job as top clarinetist in the National Philharmonic. Her mother says a week later two strangers appeared at their home saying the 25-year-old was needed for an interview at the presidential palace.
Instead she was locked up at a military prison accused of violating Venezuela’s hate law, which was passed by lawmakers loyal to Maduro in 2017. It threatens sentences up to 20 years for any message through television, radio or social media that instigates violence or hate. Critics say the government uses the law to crack down on dissent.
Rights groups condemned Palacios’ arrest as an example of the deteriorating human rights situation. A recent U.N. report said that since 2014 more than 15,000 people have been detained for political motives including more than 2,000 this year alone.