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Face Off: Congress v Zuckerberg

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Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony revealed much about both the social media industry, and our government’s mentality.

First, Zuckerberg. He seemed “in over his head,” repeatedly inserting “run out the clock” words and phrases into his responses to evidently hide his nervousness (do you blame him?). How many times did he say, “Congressman!” and “that’s a great question”? (Well, of course it was a great question, I waited for someone to say, because if it wasn’t so great, I wouldn’t have asked it!) Zuckerberg time and time again seemed to be buying time, running seconds off each elected representative’s four or five minutes of allotted time.

Zuckerberg got buffeted by representatives on privacy, on European regulations, and most notably by Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Steve Scalise on the subject of political bias.

Yet Zuckerberg disappointed before a worldwide audience. He had a chance to tell the world that:

1. no, a private tech company is not an unpaid deputy of the government, acting with the authority and power of the state;
And

2. A private tech company is not acting
in loco parentis when it obtains user information, and

3. Users across the world are free to use, or leave, Facebook and that these freedoms often exceed the freedoms people enjoy under the laws of most nations in the world today. Facebook, warts and all, is one of the most democratic institutions on the planet!

Instead, Zuckerberg came to Capitol Hill, showing contrition over the involvement of Cambridge Analytica (a third party as to which Facebook’s responsibility is unclear and dubious). What we saw — what the world saw — was the United States Congress bullying a private social media company.

Now, Zuckerberg is hardly a sympathetic figure. Many people envy him for his fantastic wealth and profile, and for his youth. Also, Silicon Valley and indeed much of American big business is quite leftist (Zuckerberg acknowledged this). But his beating — which he handled pretty well, all things considered — was both undeserved and likely to backfire.

Some representatives used the hearings to preen, showboat and showcase their “fighting for the common man” bonafides, and any business leader makes for a great whipping boy these days. But almost everyone grilling Zuckerberg showed a zeal for flexing the awesome powers of government.

There are many problems with the operations of major social media platforms. The growing publicity surrounding these problems is already causing reform, and in some cases, boycotts and departures from the platforms, and innovations by new competitors.

All we got from Washington, DC was a group of elected representatives reminding the tech innovators of America of “who’s the boss.”

I can’t help but think that, across the world, innovators and disruptors are heeding that message. So are, I fear, America’s competitors.

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Guns and Crime

Ex-Trump lawyer Cohen gets 3 years in prison

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Ex-Trump lawyer Cohen gets 3 years in prison

NEW YORK (AP) — Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s once-devoted lawyer and all-around fixer, was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison after telling a federal judge that his “blind loyalty” to Trump led him to cover up the president’s “dirty deeds.”

Standing alone at the defense table, Cohen, 52, shook his head slightly and closed his eyes as the judge pronounced the sentence for crimes that included lying about his boss’ business dealings in Russia and funneling hush money to two women who said they had sex with Trump — payments that both Cohen and federal prosecutors said were made at Trump’s direction to fend off damage to his White House bid.

Cohen is the first and, so far, only member of Trump’s circle during two years of investigations to go into open court and implicate the president in a crime, though whether a president can be prosecuted under the Constitution is an open question.

Separately, prosecutors announced Wednesday that they filled in another piece of the puzzle in the hush-money case: The parent company of the National Enquirer acknowledged making one of those payments “in concert” with the Trump campaign to protect Trump from a story that could have hurt his candidacy.

At the sentencing, U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III said Cohen deserved modest credit for his decision over the summer to admit guilt and cooperate in the federal investigation of efforts by Russians to influence the 2016 presidential election, but his assistance “does not wipe the slate clean.”

“Somewhere along the way Mr. Cohen appears to have lost his moral compass,” the judge said. “As a lawyer, Mr. Cohen should have known better.”

The judge also ordered Cohen to pay $1.39 million restitution, forfeit $500,000 and pay $100,000 in fines. He was ordered to report to prison March 6 and left court without comment.

The prison sentence was in line with what prosecutors asked for. Sentencing guidelines called for around four to five years, and the government asked in court papers that Cohen be given only a slight break.

“It was my own weakness and a blind loyalty to this man that led me to choose a path of darkness over light,” Cohen, who once boasted he would “take a bullet” for Trump, told the judge before the sentence came down. “Time and time again, I thought it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds rather than listen to my voice.”

Cohen got choked up near the end of his remarks and paused briefly to compose himself. His daughter, seated behind him, sobbed throughout. As he returned to his seat, he ran his hand across her cheek.

Cohen’s lawyers had argued for leniency, saying he decided to cooperate with investigators rather than hold out for a possible pardon.

“He came forward to offer evidence against the most powerful person in our country,” defense attorney Guy Petrillo told the judge.

Cohen pleaded guilty in August to evading $1.4 million in taxes related to his personal businesses. In the part of the case with greater political repercussions, he also admitted breaking campaign finance laws in arranging payments in the waning days of the 2016 election to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Last month, he also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress by concealing that he was negotiating a proposal to build a Trump skyscraper in Moscow deep into the presidential campaign season. He said he lied out of devotion to Trump, who had insisted during the campaign that he had no business ties whatsoever to Russia.

The sentence was the culmination of a spectacular rise and fast fall of a lawyer who attached himself to the fortunes of his biggest client, helped him get elected president, then turned on him, cooperating with two interconnected investigations: one run by federal prosecutors in New York, the other by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the Russia investigation.

Beyond the guilty pleas, it is unclear exactly what Cohen has told prosecutors, and it remains to be seen how much damage Cohen’s cooperation will do to Trump. Legal experts said Cohen could get his sentence reduced if he strikes a deal with prosecutors to tell them more.

Cohen said in court that he will continue cooperating. And his legal adviser Lanny Davis, who previously represented President Bill Clinton, said the former political fixer will tell publicly “all he knows” about Trump after Mueller completes his investigation, and that includes testifying before Congress.

“Mr. Trump’s repeated lies cannot contradict stubborn facts,” Davis said in a statement.

In the hush-money case, prosecutors said, Cohen arranged for the parent company of the National Enquirer to pay $150,000 to McDougal. He also paid $130,000 to Daniels and was reimbursed by Trump’s business empire.

Prosecutors said the McDougal payment violated federal law against corporate campaign contributions, while the money that went to Daniels exceeded the $2,700 limit on campaign donations. Also, campaign contributions must be reported under law, and the two hush-money payments were not disclosed.

Shortly after Cohen’s sentencing, federal authorities announced a deal not to prosecute the National Enquirer’s parent, American Media Inc. As part of the deal, AMI admitted making the $150,000 payment to McDougal to buy her silence about the alleged affair and fend off damage to Trump’s candidacy.

In a court filing last week, the prosecutors left no doubt that they believe Cohen arranged the hush-money payments at Trump’s direction, saying the maneuver was part of an effort to “influence the election from the shadows.”

Trump had denied any sexual relationship with the women and argued on Twitter earlier this week that the payments to the women were “a simple private transaction,” not a campaign contribution. And if it was a prohibited contribution, Trump said, Cohen is the one who should be held responsible.

“Lawyer’s liability if he made a mistake, not me,” Trump wrote, adding, “Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced. WITCH HUNT!”

An attorney for the Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

At the sentencing, a prosecutor in Mueller’s office, Jeannie Rhee, said Cohen has “sought to tell us the truth and that is of the utmost value to us” and has “provided consistent and credible information about core Russia-related issues under investigation.” She did not elaborate.

But the New York-based prosecutors who handled the case against Cohen had urged the judge to sentence him to a “substantial” prison term and said he failed to tell investigators everything he knows.

In addressing the judge, Cohen described the sentencing as “the day I am getting my freedom back.” He said he had suffered from a “personal and mental incarceration” ever since agreeing in 2007 to work for Trump, a man he admired. “I now know there is little to be admired,” Cohen said.

Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, who played a major role in exposing the hush-money discussions, said outside the courthouse: “We will not stop until the truth is known relating to the conduct of Donald Trump.” But he added: “Let me be clear, Michael Cohen is neither a hero nor a patriot” and “he deserves every day of the 36-month sentence he will serve.”

___

Associated Press writer Jim Mustian contributed to this report.

___

This story has been corrected to fix “felt” to “thought” in Cohen’s quote about covering up “dirty deeds.”

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Guns and Crime

France shooting: 2 dead, several wounded in Strasbourg

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France shooting 2 dead several wounded in Strasbourg

PARIS (AP) — A shooting in the French city of Strasbourg killed two people and wounded up to eight others, officials said, sparking a major security operation around a world-famous Christmas market on Tuesday. Authorities said the shooter remains at large.

The motive for the shooting is unclear. It wasn’t immediately clear if the market was the target of the attack or if there was any link to terrorism.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told reporters that the gunman has been identified, and had a police record for common crimes. He several of the wounded were in critical condition and that he was heading to Strasbourg.

The French Interior Ministry called on the public to remain indoors.

“Our security and rescue services are mobilized,” Castaner said.

Local authorities tweeted for the public to “avoid the area of the police station,” which is close to the city’s Christmas market. Strasbourg’s well-known market is set up around the city’s cathedral during the Christmas period and becomes a major gathering place.

Images from the scene show police officers, police vehicles and barricades surrounding the sparkling lights of the market.

The European Parliament, which is based in Strasbourg, was on lockdown. Spokesman Jaume Duch said that “the European Parliament has been closed and no one can leave until further notice.” It wasn’t immediately clear how many people were inside.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that “my thoughts are with the victims of the shooting …. Strasbourg is like no other a city which is a symbol of peace and European democracy.”

France has been hit by several extremist attacks, including the 2015 Paris shootings, which killed 130 people and wounded hundreds, and a truck attack in Nice that killed dozens in 2016.

Some Strasbourg residents have reported on social media that they heard gunfire in some parts of the city center.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe tweeted that “the situation is still underway, priority is given to security forces and rescuers.”

President Emmanuel Macron has adjourned a meeting at the presidential palace on Tuesday night to be able to monitor the events, his office said.

Strasbourg, about 500 kilometers (310 miles) east of Paris, is on the border with Germany.

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Democrats

Trump to meet with Democrats about border wall, shutdown

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Trump to meet with Democrats about border wall shutdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders are seeking to avert a partial government shutdown amid a sharp dispute over Trump’s border wall and a lengthy to-do list that includes a major farm bill and a formal rebuke of Saudi Arabia for the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Trump is set to confer Tuesday at the White House with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer ahead of a Dec. 21 deadline to shut down a range of government agencies.

“Republicans still control the House, the Senate and the White House, and they have the power to keep government open,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement Monday.

“Our country cannot afford a Trump Shutdown,” the Democrats said, adding that Trump “knows full well that his wall proposal does not have the votes to pass the House and Senate and should not be an obstacle to a bipartisan agreement.”

Republican congressional leaders have repeatedly said it’s up to Trump to cut a deal with Democrats, an acknowledgement of their own inability to produce spending bills with Republican votes alone.

That gives Democrats some momentum heading into the closed-door talks, which also could veer into Trump’s request for emergency funding for deadly wildfires in California and a Republican-sponsored bill to extend expiring tax breaks and delay some health care taxes.

Before lawmakers adjourn for the year they also may consider a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill, a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller and a plan to overhaul the system for handling sexual harassment complaints on Capitol Hill.

By far the biggest unresolved issue is the border wall. Trump wants the next funding package to include at least $5 billion for it, an idea Democrats have flatly rejected.

Pelosi and Schumer have urged Trump to support a bill that includes a half-dozen government funding bills largely agreed upon by lawmakers, along with a separate measure that funds the Department of Homeland Security at current levels through Sept. 30. The homeland bill includes about $1.3 billion for fencing and other security measures at the border.

If Trump does not agree to that, Democrats will likely urge a continuing resolution that funds all the remaining appropriations bills at current levels through Sept. 30, an aide said. The aide was not authorized to discuss strategy by name and requested anonymity.

Trump said Friday that Congress should provide all the money he wants for the wall and called illegal immigration a “threat to the well-being of every American community.”

At an appearance in Kansas City, Missouri, Trump accused Democrats of playing a political game and said it was one he ultimately would win.

“I actually think the politics of what they’re doing is very bad for them,” Trump said of Democrats. “We’re going to very soon find out. Maybe I’m not right. But usually I’m right.”

Pelosi, who is seeking to become House speaker in January, said she and many other Democrats consider the wall “immoral, ineffective and expensive” and noted that Trump promised during the 2016 campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall, an idea Mexico has repeatedly rejected.

Protecting borders “is a responsibility we honor, but we do so by honoring our values as well,” Pelosi said last week.

Schumer said Democrats want to work with Trump to avert a shutdown, but said money for border security should not include the concrete wall Trump has envisioned. Instead, the money should be used for fencing and technology that experts say is appropriate, Schumer said.

“We do not want to let a Trump temper tantrum govern our policies or cause the shutdown of a government, which everyone on both sides of the aisle knows is the wrong idea,” Schumer said. If Trump “wants to shut down the government over Christmas over the wall, that’s his decision,” he said.

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Trump was all that stands between fully funding the government and a shutdown.

“Time and again, President Trump has used the government of the American people as a bargaining chip for his fabricated solution to his manufactured crisis,” Leahy said Monday in a Senate speech.

Trump “wants to score a made-for-reality-TV moment and he doesn’t care how many hardworking Americans will suffer for it,” Leahy said. “This is not about border security. This is about politics, pure and simple.”

But House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said Democrats were the ones playing politics.

Trump “wants to secure the border. He got elected president on that platform,” Scalise told Fox News Channel.

If there’s a better way to secure the border than the $5 billion plan Trump has laid out, Democrats “need to come with an alternative,” Scalise said Monday. “They can’t come and say they want to shut the government down for no reason because they don’t want border security. They’ll lose that argument with the American people.”

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said Monday he does not believe Trump or Democrats want to shut the government down.

“When I was with him the indication was he didn’t want to shut the government down, but he did want his wall,” Shelby said.

___

AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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