Democratic Senators at Odds With Trump Over Chinese Trademarks

Democratic senators are protesting the Trump Organization’s acceptance of a valuable trademark from the Chinese government without asking Congress first if doing so is constitutional.

A group of 13 senators warned President Donald Trump in a letter Thursday that they intended to hold him accountable to his oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution. Additional Democrats signed a letter Friday to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that complained about Trump getting special treatment from China.

“A president must not have two masters,” said Thursday’s letter, led by Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal. “If you continue to refuse to request and receive congressional approval before accepting favors from foreign governments, we will be unable to serve our constitutional role. Such a situation is unacceptable.”

The letters came in response to China’s February 14 registration of a trademark for construction services to Trump. He secured the mark only after fighting for 10 grinding years in China’s courts to win back rights from a man named Dong Wei. A bureaucratic about-face after Trump declared his candidacy has raised questions about whether his political rise is benefiting his family business. These concerns are particularly sharp in China, where the courts and bureaucracy reflect the will of the ruling Communist Party.

Emoluments clause

Critics say the trademark award violates the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, which bars public servants from accepting anything of value from foreign states unless approved by Congress. While the actual value of Trump’s China trademarks is unclear, Trump himself has said he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars defending them. Trump has significant intellectual property interests abroad, including 49 pending and 77 registered trademarks in China alone. Most come up for renewal during his term.

Alan Garten, chief legal officer of the Trump Organization, did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment. He has previously said that Trump’s trademark activity in China predates his election. Garten has also noted that Trump turned management of his company over to his children and a team of executives in order to remove himself from his business and its trademark portfolio.

Last week, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California called the China trademark registration “a clear conflict of interest and deeply troubling.” Feinstein is a signatory to both of this week’s letters, too.

“At a time when the United States has pressing economic, diplomatic and security concerns at play in our relationship with the People’s Republic of China, the possibility that the government of China is seeking to win President Trump’s favor by granting him special treatment for his businesses is disturbing,” said the letter to Tillerson, also signed by Senators Ben Cardin of Maryland and Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

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Trump Action on Transgender Student Rights Seen as ‘So Bad for Business’

U.S. companies led by tech firms Yahoo, Apple and Microsoft have criticized the Trump administration’s decision to revoke Obama administration guidance that allowed transgender public school students to use the bathroom of their choice.

Their statements evoked the opposition expressed by many businesses last year when North Carolina passed a law forcing transgenders to use public restrooms matching their gender assigned at birth.

The resulting boycotts have cost North Carolina more than $560 million in economic activity, according to the online magazine Facing South.

Role for business

Companies lacked the same opportunity to protest with their dollars in this instance, since the Trump administration action pertains to schools, but still signaled they stood with the Obama policy of using the federal government to expand transgender civil rights.

“It’s ultimately going to come down to the business community to stop it because it’s so bad for business,” said Christopher Gergen, chief executive of Forward Impact, an entrepreneurial organization in Raleigh, North Carolina.

In unveiling the new direction Wednesday, Trump administration officials argued that transgender policies should be an issue for the states to decide.

“The action taken by the administration is troubling and goes against all that we believe in,” Yahoo said in a statement.

Social conservatives have hailed the decision by the Justice and Education departments to defer transgender bathroom policies to the states, calling it a victory for privacy and traditional values.

But companies have tried to persuade state and local governments to side with transgender people.

“We support efforts toward greater acceptance, not less, and we strongly believe that transgender students should be treated as equals,” Apple said in a statement.

Microsoft President Brad Smith looked to history as a guide, referencing the date that the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, when President Abraham Lincoln declared freedom for slaves.

“Since Jan. 1, 1863, the federal government has played a vital role in protecting the rights of all Americans. Let’s not stop now,” Smith said on Twitter.

Rights rollback ‘is wrong’

Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey joined other tech firms criticizing the Trump administration’s position.

“Rolling back rights for transgender students is wrong,” Dorsey said in a tweet Thursday. “Twitter and Square stand with the LGBTQ community, always.”

In response to the North Carolina law, companies such as Deutsche Bank and PayPal canceled expansion plans, costing the state jobs.

By invoking states’ rights, the Trump administration is potentially emboldening legislatures in other states that are considering laws similar to North Carolina’s HB2.

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Упродовж дня на Донбасі поранені 5 військовослужбовців – штаб АТО

У прес-центрі штабу АТО у п’ятницю ввечері повідомили, що підтримувані Росією бойовики на Донбасі здійснили 47 обстрілів упродовж дня, в результаті чого було поранено п’ятьох військовослужбовців.

Як йдеться у повідомленні штабу у Facebook, обстріли 24 лютого тривали на всіх напрямках. Під час обстрілів сепаратисти використовували гранатомети, міномети, БМП та стрілецьку зброю. Під кількаразові обстріли у п’ятницю потрапила Авдіївка, додали у штабі.

В угрупованні «ДНР» заявили про обстріл у п’ятницю з боку ЗСУ чотирьох сіл у Ясинуватському і Новоазовському районах. Також бойовики заявили, що українські військові випустили напередодні понад 450 снарядів і мін в бік підконтрольних угрупованню територій. В угрупованні «ЛНР» заявили, що українські військові за минулу добу 18 разів порушували режим тиші.

Під час зустрічі Тристоронньої контактної групи щодо Донбасу, яка відбулася у Мінську 15 лютого, сторони домовилися відвести важке озброєння від лінії розмежування на Донбасі до 20 лютого. Міністри закордонних справ країн «нормандської четвірки» під час зустрічі на Мюнхенській конференції заявили про готовність вплинути на впровадження режиму припинення вогню на Донбасі з 20 лютого.

Контактна група із врегулювання ситуації на Донбасі неодноразово оголошувала режим тиші на сході України, проте обстріли тривають, а сторони конфлікту звинувачують одна одну в порушенні перемир’я.


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China Steams Past US, France to Be Germany’s Biggest Trading Partner

China for the first time became Germany’s most important trading partner in 2016, overtaking the United States, which fell back to third place behind France, data showed on Friday.

German imports from and exports to China rose to 170 billion euros ($180 billion) last year, Federal Statistics Office figures reviewed by Reuters showed.

The development is good news for the German government, which has made it a goal to safeguard global free trade after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to impose tariffs on imports and his top adviser on trade accused Germany of exploiting a weak euro to boost exports.

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has suggested that the European Union should refocus its economic policy toward Asia, should the Trump administration pursue protectionism.

“Given the protectionist plans of the new U.S. president one would expect that the trade ties between Germany and China will be further strengthened,” said Anton Boerner, head of the BGA trade association.

The main reason for the reduced trade volume with the U.S. was a drop in American exports to Germany, Boerner added. Neighboring France remained the second-most important business partner with a combined trade volume of 167 billion euros. The United States came in third with 165 billion euros.

In 2015, the United States had climbed to the top of the list of Germany’s most important trading partners, overtaking France for the first time since 1961.

Separately, Germany’s Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations said on Friday it expected exports to Russia will probably rise at least 5 percent this year, their first increase in years given Western sanctions.

“Optimism among German exporters is rising further,” said Clemens Fuest, head of the Ifo economic institute. He said export expectations increased in February, pointing to overall strong trade figures in the first quarter of 2017.

“Made in Germany”

Looking at exports alone, the United States remained the biggest client for products “Made in Germany” in 2016, importing goods from Europe’s biggest economy worth some 107 billion euros.

France remained the second-most important single export destination for German goods with a sum of 101 billion euros, the data showed. Britain came in third, importing German goods worth 86 billion euros.

Britain accounted also for the biggest bi-lateral trade surplus: Exports surpassed imports from Britain by more than 50 billion euros, the figures showed.

The United States came in second with a bi-lateral trade deficit: German exports to the U.S. surpassed imports from there by 49 billion euros.

This means that Britain and the U.S. together accounted for roughly 40 percent of Germany’s record trade surplus of 252.9 billion euros in 2016.

The figures are likely to fuel the debate about Germany’s export performance, its trade surplus and global economic imbalances ahead of a meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors in Baden-Baden mid-March.

($1 = 0.9483 euros)

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Сайти бойовиків повідомляють про приїзд Савченко на контрольовані угрупованням «ДНР» території

Сайти бойовиків угруповання «ДНР» у п’ятницю повідомляють про приїзд на контрольовані ними території народного депутата України Надії Савченко.

Як інформують ресурси сепаратистів, Савченко прибула на неконтрольовані українською владою території Донеччини разом із керівником українського Центру звільнення полонених «Офіцерський корпус» Володимиром Рубаном.

Підтвердження цієї інформації з інших джерел немає.

Повідомляється, що буцімто Савченко і Рубан прибули, щоб відвідати українських військовополонених.

Наприкінці минулого року Надія Савченко вже зустрічалася з ватажками угруповань «ДНР» і «ЛНР», щоправда, в білоруському Мінську. Тоді вона стверджувала, що метою таких контактів, серед іншого, було звільнення полонених.

За даними СБУ, в полоні бойовиків перебувають 109 громадян України.

Звільнення заручників є однією з вимог мінських домовленостей про врегулювання на окупованій частині Донбасу.

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Депутат Артеменко повідомив про новий допит у прокуратурі 27 лютого

Народний депутат України Андрій Артеменко заявив, що продовжить надання свідчень у прокуратурі АР Крим у Києві в понеділок, 27 лютого. Про це він заявив журналістам після сьогоднішнього допиту.

«Мене запросили на ще одну зустріч як свідка у понеділок на 15:00. Я погоджуюся співпрацювати зі слідством. Я переконаний, що, правда, всі ті альтернативи, що я пропоную світу, мають сенс. Крим – це Україна. Крим не згаданий в Мінських угодах, забутий на міжнародному рівні», – сказав Артеменко.

Він розповів, що сьогодні у прокуратурі його допитували як свідка, зокрема про обставини його зустрічі у США.

«Я дав всі свідчення як свідок. Я пояснив де, як, за яких обставин відбулася ця зустріч в готелі в Мангетені в Нью-Йорку, про що йшла мова та які ініціативи ми обговорювали», – розповів Артеменко.

Як повідомив прокурор ГПУ Микола Мерет, прокуратура не подавала документів щодо заборони Артеменкові на виїзд із країни. Про оголошення підозри йому наразі теж не йдеться.

Раніше сьогодні сам депутат заперечив можливість свого виїзду за кордон, зокрема до Росії, і додав, що залишається в Україні та відвідуватиме усі можливі допити.

19 лютого видання The New York Times повідомило, що член фракції Радикальної партії Олега Ляшка Андрій Артеменко передав план нормалізації відносин між Україною і Росією радникові президента США Майклові Флінну незадовго до відставки цього американського посадовця. Цей план, зокрема, передбачає проведення всеукраїнського референдуму про передачу Криму Росії в оренду на термін від 50 до 100 років, а також передбачає виведення російських військ з території України. За даними видання, цей план отримав підтримку в Москві.

Після цього лідер Радикальної партії Олег Ляшко заявив про вимогу до Андрія Артеменка скласти мандат через пропозиції щодо Криму. Ляшко також зазначив, що це «власна позиція» депутата, вона не відповідає позиції партії. Артеменка виключили з фракції партії Ляшка у Верховній Раді.

Після заяв Артеменка прокуратура Криму відкрила кримінальне провадження про держзраду.

У Кремлі у відповідь на заяви Артеменка оголосили, що вважають окупований Крим частиною території Росії, а дискусії щодо майбутнього півострова назвали неприйнятними.

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Геращенко закрила засідання Ради, наступне – 14 березня

Перший заступник голови Верховної Ради України Ірина Геращенко закрила пленарне засідання.

Сьогодні у ході засідання відбулася «година запитань до уряду», зокрема, міністр енергетики та вугільної промисловості Ігор Насалик повідомив депутатам про заходи у сфері енергетики. Також віце-прем’єр-міністр України В’ячеслав Кириленко розповів про процес підготовки України до проведення пісенного конкурсу «Євробачення-2017», який відбудеться у травні у Києві.

Після цього Геращенко оголосила депутатські запити.

Відповідно до календарного плану, 27-28 лютого –1-3 березня народні депутати працюватимуть з виборцями, 6-10 березня – в комітетах, комісіях і фракціях.

Наступне пленарне засідання шостої сесії відбудеться у вівторок, 14 березня. 

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Prime Minister: Greece Made ‘Honorable Compromise’ on Reforms

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras defended a deal reached between Athens and its foreign creditors for further reforms in return for bailout aid, saying it was an “honorable compromise.”

Tsipras said he believed relations between Greece, the European Union and International Monetary Fund had turned a page after seven years in international bailouts, and that lenders had accepted austerity for the crisis-hit country should end.

“I think there was a turnaround of all sides. In the direction of overcoming austerity and to now focus on a change to the policy mix that Greece must now follow,” Tsipras told lawmakers.

Reforms and tax relief

Greece and its creditors agreed Monday to further reforms and in return Athens will adopt tax relief measures, in a quid-pro-quo to ease a logjam in talks that have held up additional funding.

Representatives of Greece’s foreign creditors, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, will return to Athens next week to discuss reforms the country must adopt to convince the IMF to participate in its current bailout program.

The review of Greece’s bailout progress has dragged on for months mainly because of a rift between the EU and the Washington-based IMF over the country’s fiscal targets in 2018, when its program ends, and the post-bailout period.

End to perpetual austerity

Tsipras, who described the compromise as a refocus and a shift to a “policy mix” in which any impact would be offset by some relief measures, said he expected the review to be concluded by March 20.

“If you would ask me personally, if I agree to the need to change this policy mix I would say no, but when you go into a negotiation its obvious you will make some gains, but you will also be forced to make some concessions,” he said.

“Today, I have the absolute conviction we have achieved an honorable compromise. … For the first time in seven years it was agreed to leave behind us this principle of perpetual austerity.” 

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Egyptians Steadfast as Inflation Hits 30 Percent

Egyptians are bearing down under their worst inflation in a decade, cutting spending as much as possible as prices surge on basic food items, transportation, housing, and even some essential medicines.

Inflation reached almost 30 percent in January, up 5 percent over the previous month, driven by the floatation of the Egyptian pound and slashing of fuel subsidies enacted by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in November.

The move was part of a reform package to secure an IMF bailout loan of $12 billion desperately needed to shore up investor confidence and overhaul the economy. Immediately after the floatation, the pound lost over half its value, making a wide range of Egypt’s many imported goods double in price.

Quietly tightening belts

In the months since, Egyptians have been left with a grim search for ways to tighten their belts and make ends meet, hoping eventually the promised benefits of reform like growth and job creation come.

There’s little public outlet to voice discontent, with opposition and dissent in general crushed, and alternatives to el-Sissi’s rule unfathomable for most. Many fear saying anything negative about the country in public.

“People are buying half of what they did before, because it’s gotten very expensive,” said Hassan, a butcher who only gave his first name for fear of creating too much attention.

Food and drinks have seen some of the largest increases, costing nearly 40 percent more since the floatation, figures from the statistics agency show. Some meat prices have leaped nearly 50 percent.

“They’re buying less than before. Instead of buying five or six items they’ll buy two, for example,” said a grocery clerk, Ismael, who gave only his first name for similar reasons. “No one knows what the prices will be next. But hopefully tomorrow things will get better.”

Little alternative to reforms

The economy has yet to recover from the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that overthrew longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Investment and tourism, a pillar of the economy, were both gutted by political turmoil and terror attacks.

Keeping the pound’s value high artificially was draining foreign reserves at a time of waning largess from Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab allies, who propped up el-Sissi’s Egypt with tens of billions of dollars after he led the military’s ouster of his Islamist predecessor, Mohammed Morsi, in 2013. Paying for subsidies also sucked up much of the budget.

Reforms were long avoided by Egypt’s leaders for fear of a popular backlash like the 1977 bread riots that forced the reversal of food subsidy cuts.

There have been some positive signs since the shock reforms were enacted. Investors have flocked to buy Egyptian bonds, and foreign reserves are rising. The pound has regained some strength, trading around 16 per dollar as opposed to nearly 20 in late December. People have changed buying habits, purchasing local goods, instead of imports, rendered more expensive by both the exchange rate and newly imposed high import tariffs.

Economists, the government and the IMF predict inflation will ease later this year.

In the meantime, people are using public transport more, moving children to less expensive private schools, avoiding meat, using electricity more thriftily and supplementing some purchases with food handouts from the army. 

Poor hit hardest 

But among the poor, daily needs are being hit hard. Nearly a third of Egypt’s population of 92 million people lives under the U.N. poverty line of $1.9 a day.

“For people who are more working class or poor, there’s less room for belt-tightening at this point since such a large percentage of their salary was already devoted toward purchasing food,” said Timothy Kaldas, a non-resident fellow with the Tahrir Institute for Middle East policy.

Some drugs have gotten harder to find in pharmacies. Manufacturers have slowed or stopped production on some medicines because higher prices of components make them less profitable or unprofitable, since prices are fixed by the state. Accusations of drug hoarding abound amid expectations the government will have to bump up the prices.

The government appears to be betting it can keep a lid on any discontent long enough for hoped-for growth to kick in. 

President keeps tight grip

In speeches, el-Sissi has commended Egyptians for enduring what he called difficult measures, while telling them further cutbacks are inevitable.

His government, meanwhile, has kept an iron grip. A crackdown over the past two years has crushed both the Islamist movement and secular pro-democracy activists, with thousands arrested, leaving almost no organized opposition. Unauthorized gatherings are banned.

Pro-el-Sissi media consistently demonize dissidents and discourage any complaining, urging a patriotic front.

Calls for protests following the initial price hikes in November fizzled and, for the moment, there appears to be little attempt at more.

Kaldas said that in the view of the population, they had two uprisings that ousted two governments and quality of life has only deteriorated.

“The likelihood that they would see that as a solution going forward anytime soon is, I think, pretty slim,” he said.

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