Economy & business

Stocks Falter as US Health Care Squabble Worries Investors

In New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell for the eight consecutive day on Monday.  Investors may have been discouraged by the failure of U.S. President Donald Trump to pass big changes to the health care insurance system that he promised during the campaign.

U.S. stock indexes were down sharply in morning trading, but by Monday’s close, the S&P 500 was off just one-tenth of a percent, with the Dow down two-tenths.  The NASDAQ posted a slight gain.

U.S. and other stocks had been mostly rising since the November election on business hopes that promised cuts in taxes and regulation and a boost in spending on public works would stimulate the economy and boost profits.

Now investors are worried that the inability of the Republican president to get support from his Republican-controlled Congress means he will struggle to deliver promised changes on other complex and controversial efforts.

Later this week, government officials will report new data on growth of the U.S. economy and the health of the job market.

Economy & business

Study: Transnational Crime Worth Between $1.6 to $2.2 Trillion Per Year

Transnational crime, or crimes committed across international borders, is growing at a faster pace than many realize, partly because the international community is not paying a lot of attention to it. That’s the conclusion from Global Financial Integrity or GFI, a non-profit Washington think tank that tracks illicit financial flows across borders.

The group’s latest findings estimate that transnational crime is worth between $1.6 to $2.2 trillion per year. GFI says the lion’s share of illicitly generated funds around the globe comes from counterfeiting, worth between $923 billion to $1.13 trillion per year, followed by drug trafficking which generates between $426 to $652 billion in illegal funds annually.

“Transnational crime is a business, and business is very good,” said Channing May, author of GFI’s “Transnational Crime and the Developing World.”  Less understood, said May, are the lasting and negative consequences for governments and the economies of developing countries.  

“Very rarely do the revenues from transnational crime have any long-term benefit to citizens, communities or economies of developing countries. Instead, the crimes undermine local and national economies, destroy the environment and jeopardize the health and well-being of the public,” said May.

Rounding out the top 10

Of the top 10 illegal revenue generators around the globe, human trafficking is ranked in fourth place, generating roughly $150 billion per year, followed by illegal mining, worth upwards of $48 billion. In eighth place, crude oil theft is valued between $5 to $12 billion, and in 10th place, the trafficking of human organs may be worth as much as $1.7 billion per year.

The report says shutting down the global shadow financial system that facilitates the movement and transfer of illicitly generated funds is technically not a difficult undertaking, but rather a matter of political will.

Complete report due March 29

GFI program manager Christine Clough said recommendations include greater financial transparency and regulations requiring all corporations to declare the nature and the ultimate beneficiaries of doing business within countries.

“Networks involved in these illicit markets are akin to major global corporations: they need access to finance and banking to be profitable to continue operating,” said Clough.

The complete GFI report will be released March 29 in Washington and is based on a compilation of statistics from various government and non-governmental bodies and law enforcement sources.

Arts & Entertainment

Baltics’ Russian Media Use Online Humor to Combat Propaganda

Russia’s nationalist propaganda machine kicked into high gear after the 2014 annexation of Crimea sparked the worst East-West tensions since the Cold War.


State media quickly fell behind the Kremlin line while Russia’s few independent media came under increasing pressure to conform or self-censor.


As Russian authorities shrank the space for independent reporting, one group of Russian journalists escaped the pressure by relocating to the European Union in Latvia’s capital, Riga.

“Because, you know, a lot of white noise propaganda creates some kind of fake agenda. And, we want to provide [a] real agenda to our readers,” says Meduza Project founder Galina Timchenko.


Timchenko was fired in 2014 as chief editor of Russian news website after publishing an interview with a far-right Ukrainian nationalist that Russia’s state media regulator called “extremist.”


Timchenko says she ran out of time and energy to fight Russian authorities and can work easier in the EU countries.

Baltic countries are willing hosts

In the Baltics, authorities responded to Kremlin propaganda with temporary suspensions for Russian state media that incited unrest. But also by hosting independent Russian media like Meduza.

“Those Russian journalists who left Moscow, who left [Saint] Petersburg, who left Russia and other cities, and who established their own media outlet here and who are also, to some extent, helping to tackle these propagandas,” says Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics.


Meduza battles increased cynicism about Russian politics and current events by focusing on online content and humor to attract young Russians.

Use of humor

A big focus is using humor to point out absurd politics and alleged corruption.

During a March visit to their office in Riga, reporters were shown an online game Meduza created, one of many on their website, that has players try to purchase more shoes and shirts than Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

The game refers to Russian anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny’s investigation of alleged corruption linked to Medvedev. The investigation started by tracing who paid for a pair of Medvedev’s sneakers and ended asking the same question about a massive villa estate in Tuscany that Navalny claims is Medvedev’s. Russian officials have dismissed Navalny’s previous allegations, though Medvedev has yet to comment himself.


Target young Russian internet users

Meduza aims to reach internet-savvy young Russians who, unlike 80 percent of their compatriots, are not yet hooked on state television.

“These people have more chances to see another Russia. These people have more chances to see Russia without the current government, the current president. So, that’s why we think that we have to invest all our resources exactly into this audience,” says Meduza Chief Editor Ivan Kolpakov.


But he says they are not activists or opposition media; just reporters trying to do independent journalism.

“And the main thing we’re trying to do, we’re trying to, you know, make news interesting again, Make News Great Again, for the people in Russia,” says Kolpakov with a slight grin in sarcastic reference to U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.”


Older Russians are harder target

Timchenko acknowledges reaching most older Russians is quite a challenge.

“They want to see themselves, with their beliefs and desires, in media. They just do not want to see different views. It’s the most difficult, difficult thing.”

While in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, a news-comedy program is using a similar strategy.



Political satire

An online show called Laikykites Ten, or “Hang In There,” recently began a Russian-language version making fun of Russian politics.

“Inspiration comes from the — our beloved  — Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Also, Jon Stewart, [Stephen] Colbert,” says host of the show and TV journalist Andrius Tapinas.


The show’s name refers to a comment made by Russian Prime Minister Medvedev to a retied woman in annexed Crimea who confronted him in 2016, telling him pensions were too low to keep up with rising costs. Medvedev responded there was no money left in the budget and hastily left shouting “You hang in there. Best Wishes! Cheers! Take care!”

The comments sparked a social media storm.


The crowd-funded, online program uses satire to reach Russian speakers and poke holes in Kremlin propaganda.

“We’re making fun of Russian politics and Russian government. And, that’s where the market is pretty empty, I would say. Because, inside of Russia, it’s not advisable for your health reasons to be very critical or even a tiny bit critical of your government,” says Tapinas.


Like Meduza, Tapinas seeks the next generation of Russians who mainly get their information online, but are fed up with nationalist politics and could use a good laugh.


“When people laugh there is no place for fear,” says Meduza’s Timchenko. “You know, you can make those tough guys silly and stupid and funny and have some joy and to show that news is not boring.”

Economy & business

‘Fearless Girl’ Extends Face-off with Wall Street’s ‘Charging Bull’

The globally popular statue of a young girl will keep staring down Wall Street’s famed “Charging Bull” through February 2018 instead of being removed this coming Sunday, the mayor said.

She’s “standing up to fear, standing up to power, being able to find in yourself the strength to do what’s right,” said Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appeared with the “Fearless Girl” statue Monday on the lower Manhattan traffic island where the two bronze figures face each other.

The mayor said the political turmoil surrounding Republican President Donald Trump makes the endearing child particularly relevant.

“She is inspiring everyone at a moment when we need inspiration,” he said.

The 4-foot-tall, 250-pound ponytailed girl in a windblown dress was installed this month to highlight the dearth of women on corporate boards as she stands strong against the 11-foot-tall, 7,100-pound bull. The girl became an instant tourist draw and internet sensation.

On Monday morning, Democratic U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, of New York, led a group of prominent women in front of City Hall to honor the artist, Kristen Visbal, and State Street Global Advisors, the asset management firm that commissioned the work and, with the McCann advertising firm, helped Visbal create her sculpture.

“She was created to bring attention to the courage and unrealized power of women in so many fields, and she has clearly struck a nerve,” said Maloney, who is pushing for the statue to become a permanent installation.

Visbal said the positive response to her artwork “renewed my faith in sculpture to make an impact on society, to create a debate the way a good piece of art should.”

She has received more than 1,000 emails from India, Denmark, Sweden, Spain and elsewhere, including one from a mother who wanted to wallpaper her daughter’s room with the girl’s image.

“I see men and women as the ying and yang of society,” Visbal said. “They bring different things to the table. They solve problems in a different way. But we need to work together.”

“Fearless Girl” will stay in place for another 11 months through an art program of the city’s Department of Transportation that manages lower Broadway near Wall Street.

Visbal said one of her models was a friend’s young daughter, whom she asked “to envision staring down a great big bull and, boy, she really had style.” The girl was white, and the creative team then incorporated another girl, a Latina, “to come up with a child that has universal appeal,” Visbal said.

The fictional figure is linked to a very real message: Women make up only about 16 percent of U.S. corporate boards, according to the ISS Analytics business research firm.

Artist Arturo Di Modica’s bull arrived after the 1987 stock market crash as a symbol of Americans’ financial resilience and can-do spirit. He wants the girl gone, calling the statue an “advertising trick” fashioned by two corporate giants, while his sculpture is “art.”

Silicon Valley & Technology

Facebook’s Messenger App to Allow Live Location-sharing

Facebook Inc will add a feature to its Messenger app Monday to allow users to share their locations, the company said, ramping up competition with tools offered by Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google Maps.

The company has found that one of the most used phrases on Messenger as people talk to friends and family is “How far away are you?” or some variation, Stan Chudnovsky, head of product for Messenger, said in an interview.

“It happens to be what people are saying, what they’re interested in the most,” he said.

Sharing location information will be optional, he said, but it will also be live, so that once a user shares the information with a friend, the friend will be able to watch the user’s movement for up to 60 minutes.

Messenger was once part of the core Facebook smartphone app, but the company broke it out as a separate app in 2014 and has since invested in frequent changes to build a service distinct from the massive social network.

Google Maps said last week that it was adding a similar feature, an attempt to boost engagement on a product of increasing strategic importance to that company.

The close proximity of the announcements tells Facebook “that we’re working on the right things,” Chudnovsky said.

The Messages app on Apple’s iPhone has such a feature, too.

Facebook has been testing its change in Mexico, he said. It was ready as long ago as October, he added, but the company worked on it for five more months to minimize the impact on the battery life of phones.

Silicon Valley & Technology

Uber Resumes Self-Driving Car Program in San Francisco After Crash

Driverless vehicles operated by Uber Technologies Inc. were back on the road in San Francisco on Monday after one of its self-driving cars crashed in Arizona, the ride-hailing company said.

Uber’s autonomous vehicles in Arizona and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, remained grounded but were expected to be operating again soon, according to a spokeswoman for the company, who refused to be identified.

“We are resuming our development operations in San Francisco this morning,” she said in an email.

Uber’s San Francisco program is currently in development mode. It has two cars registered with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, but is not transporting passengers.

The spokeswoman said because of this, the company felt confident in putting the cars back on the road while it investigates the collision in Arizona.

On Friday, Uber suspended its pilot program in the three states. A human-driven vehicle “failed to yield” to an Uber vehicle while making a turn in Tempe, Arizona, said Josie Montenegro, a spokeswoman for the city’s police department.

“The vehicles collided, causing the autonomous vehicle to roll onto its side,” Montenegro said in an email. “There were no serious injuries.”

Two “safety” drivers were in the front seats of the Uber car, which was in self-driving mode at the time of the crash, Uber said on Friday, a standard requirement for its self-driving vehicles. The back seat was unoccupied.

Photos and a video posted on Twitter by Fresco News showed a Volvo SUV flipped on its side after an apparent collision involving two other, slightly damaged cars. Uber said the images appeared to be from the Tempe crash scene.





Economy & business

Trump Convenes Panel on Empowering Women in Business

President Donald Trump says that empowering and promoting women in business are priorities in his administration.


In a round-table discussion, the president is telling a group of female business owners that his team will work on barriers women face. He says the administration is also trying to make childcare more affordable and accessible.


WATCH: Trump’s comments during roundtable discussion

The gathering comes on the first work day since the Republican-led plan to repeal and replace the nation’s health care law was pulled before a House vote, a major setback for the Trump administration.


The White House is trying to focus this week on another campaign priority: creating jobs and economic issues.

Silicon Valley & Technology

Britain Wants Social Media Sites Cleared of Jihadist Postings

Islamic State propagandists are seeking to capitalize on last week’s terror attack in London, which left five people dead and 40 injured, by flooding YouTube with hundreds of violent recruitment videos.

The online propaganda offensive comes as Britain demands social media companies scrub their sites of jihadist postings.

Amber Rudd, the country’s interior minister, has vowed to “call time” on internet firms allowing terrorists “a place to hide” and has summoned some of the leading social media companies, including Facebook and Twitter, for what is being dubbed by British officials as “showdown talks” later this week.

Rudd says she is determined to stop extremists “using social media as their platform” for recruitment and for operational needs.

Britain’s security services are in a standoff with WhatsApp, which has refused to allow them access to the encrypted message the London attacker sent three minutes before he used an SUV to mow down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and stabbed to death a policeman outside the House of Commons.

British security services are powerless to read that final message, which might cast light on whether the attack was a “lone wolf” or one aided and directed by others. Police investigators believe the terrorist acted alone and have seen no evidence that he was associated with IS or al-Qaida.

WhatsApp, which has a billion users worldwide, employs “end to end encryption” for messages, which the company says prevents even its own technicians from reading people’s messages.

Officials want voluntary action

Rudd and other government ministers have launched a media onslaught, saying they are considering legislation to require online companies to take down extremist material. They argue this wouldn’t be necessary if the companies recognized their community responsibilities.

Rudd told the BBC that Facebook, Google and other companies should understand they are not just technology businesses, but also publishing platforms. “We have to have a situation where we can have our security services get into the terrorists’ communications,” she argued. “There should be no place for terrorists to hide.”

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson joined in the condemnation of social media and online companies. “I think it’s disgusting,” he told The Sunday Times. “They need to stop just making money out of prurient violent material.”

At a security conference last week in the United States, Johnson called for action.

“We are going to have to engage not just militarily, but also to stop the stuff on the internet that is corrupting and polluting so many people,” he said. “This is something that the internet companies and social media companies need to think about. They need to do more to take that stuff off their media — the incitements, the information about how to become a terrorist, the radicalizing sermons and messages. That needs to come down.”

Recruiting criminals

The furor over extremist use of the internet was fueled Monday by front-page articles in the Times and Daily Mail newspapers highlighting the IS propaganda videos posted on YouTube since last Wednesday’s slaughter in the British capital. The high-definition videos, some of which contained references to the London attack, include gory scenes of beheadings and “caliphate violence” carried out by child adherents of the terror group.

U.S. and European officials have long complained online companies are, in effect, aiding and abetting terrorism. A year ago in January, much of the U.S. national security leadership of the Obama administration sat down with Silicon Valley chiefs to discuss jihadist use of the internet to recruit and radicalize people and plot attacks.

Also last year, British spy chief, Robert Hannigan, singled out messaging apps as especially worrisome for the security services, saying they had become “the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals — precisely because they are highly encrypted.”

Some cooperation

After initial resistance to complaints from Western governments, Facebook, Google and Twitter have in recent months been more cooperative with authorities and have removed large amounts of extremist material. Twitter said in the second half of 2016 it suspended 376,890 accounts for violations related to promotion of terrorism.

But some services have resisted providing governments with encryption keys, or so-called back doors.

Apple has developed encryption keys that message users can use that are not possessed by the company. Apple’s chief executive, Timothy Cook, argued last year, “If you put a key under the mat for the cops, a burglar can find it, too.”

Silicon Valley chiefs say they fear violations of privacy and their priority is their customers, not national security, an argument that has resonated since former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed the extent of electronic surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Last year, WhatsApp was blocked several times in Brazil for failing to hand over information relating to criminal investigations. 

Messages sent on a rival service by Telegram are also encrypted, but after bad publicity and immense pressure from Western governments, the company does provide a backdoor for security and law-enforcement agencies.

Not that access to encrypted communications always helps.

Sunday, it emerged that German police knew the Christmas market attacker in Berlin who drove a truck into a crowd of shoppers was planning a suicide attack. Police had intercepted his Telegram messages nine months before the attack.

A police recommendation that he be deported was declined by state government prosecutors because they feared the courts would reject the request.