NYT Politics

How Bloomberg Bungled a Debate That He Had Been Prepped For
Author: Matt Flegenheimer, Alexander Burns and Jeremy W. Peters
Michael Bloomberg’s campaign advisers had anticipated tough debate questions on stop-and-frisk and nondisclosure agreements. The former mayor’s performance left his team rattled.

Columbian Newspaper

Judge dismisses Huawei challenge to law
Author: The Columbian

NEW YORK — A federal judge in Texas has dismissed Chinese tech giant Huawei’s lawsuit challenging a U.S. law that bars the government and its contractors from using Huawei equipment because of security concerns.

The lawsuit, filed in March 2019, sought to declare the law unconstitutional. Huawei argued the law singled out the company for punishment, denied it due process and amounted to a “death penalty.”

But a court ruled Tuesday that the ban isn’t punitive and that the federal government has the right to take its business elsewhere.

Huawei, China’s first global tech brand, is at the center of U.S.-Chinese tensions over technology competition and digital spying. The company has spent years trying to put to rest accusations that it facilitates spying and that is controlled by the ruling Communist Party.

The lawsuit was filed in Plano, Texas, the headquarters of Huawei’s U.S. operations. It was dismissed before going to trial. Experts had described Huawei’s challenge as a long shot, but said the company didn’t have many other options to challenge the law.

Huawei said it was disappointed and will consider further legal options.

Comment extended on banking law overhaul
Author: The Columbian

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration gave into public and banking industry pressure Wednesday, announcing it would extend the comment period on its overhaul of a critical banking law by 30 days.

The 30-day extension goes against what Joseph Otting, the Comptroller of the Currency, told reporters and members of Congress last month that an extension on public comment period was not up for debate.

Otting and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. have proposed a massive overhaul of the Community Reinvestment Act, a 1970s law that is designed to keep banks from discriminating against the poor and by extension, racial and ethnic minorities.

The overhaul is expansive, and Otting had originally proposed a 60-day public comment period on the law before it got finalized. Typically, large overhauls are given 90 days.

Even the banking industry, which is generally in favor of the changes, felt the 60-day comment period was too short. Democrats and their community group allies have been generally against Otting’s proposals.

Wendy’s to pay $400,000 over child labor issues
Author: The Columbian

BOSTON — Fast-food chain Wendy’s has agreed to pay $400,000 to resolve allegations that it violated child labor laws by having teenage employees at dozens of Massachusetts restaurants work later and longer than allowed, the state attorney general’s office announced Tuesday.

“We are committed to being a responsible employer, with the goal that all employees have a rewarding experience as valued members of our team,” Dublin, Ohio-based Wendy’s said in a statement.

The office began investigating after a minor employed at a Wendy’s in Worcester complained that teenagers were working too late into the night and too many hours per day.

Wendy’s provided records to investigators, who found that the restaurant was violating two child labor laws by allowing 16- and 17-year-old employees to work past 10 p.m. and more than nine hours per day.

Investigators estimated more than 2,100 violations at 46 corporate-owned Wendy’s International LLC locations across the state.

In response to the investigation, Wendy’s has changed its employee scheduling system to ensure compliance, the attorney general’s office said.

New Mexico attorney general sues Google
Author: Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s attorney general sued Google Thursday over allegations the tech company is illegally collecting personal data generated by children in violation of federal and state laws.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque claims Google is using its education services package that is marketed to school districts, teachers and parents as a way to spy on children and their families.

Attorney General Hector Balderas said that while the company touts Google Education as a valuable tool for resource-deprived schools, it is a means to monitor children while they browse the internet in the classroom and at home on private networks. He said the information being mined includes everything from physical locations to websites visited, videos watched, saved passwords and contact lists.

The state is seeking unspecified civil penalties.

“Student safety should be the number one priority of any company providing services to our children, particularly in schools,” Balderas said in a statement. “Tracking student data without parental consent is not only illegal, it is dangerous.”

Google dismissed the claims as “factually wrong,” saying the G Suite for Education package allows schools to control account access and requires that schools obtain parental consent when necessary.

“We do not use personal information from users in primary and secondary schools to target ads,” said company spokesman Jose Castaneda. “School districts can decide how best to use Google for education in their classrooms and we are committed to partnering with them.”

UnlikeEurope, the U.S. has no overarching national law governing data collection and privacy. Instead, it has a patchwork of state and federal laws that protect specific types of data, such as consumer health, financial information and the personal data generated by younger children.

New Mexico’s claim cites violations of the state’s Unfair Practices Act and the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires websites and online services to obtain parental consent before collecting any information from children under 13.

In a separate case, Google already has agreed to pay $170 million combined to the Federal Trade Commission and New York state to settle allegations its YouTube video service collected personal data on children without their parents’ consent.

As climate changes, activists struggle for Kansas’ attention
Author: JOHN HANNA, Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. — Environmentalists are struggling to get lawmakers to even discuss climate change as a serious issue in Kansas, where some leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature question the widespread scientific consensus that human activity is dangerously warming the planet.

States such as Virginia, Minnesota and California are pursuing goals for eventually getting all of their electricity from renewable resources. But Kansas proposals aimed at reducing electricity use, making state office space more energy efficient and encouraging farmers to capture and store greenhouse gases have languished without committee hearings.

Environmentalists had to schedule their own climate change hearing earlier this month outside of lawmakers’ regular meetings. Even more galling for them, a House committee’s first foray Thursday into environmental policy was a hearing on a business-backed measure to bar cities and counties from banning single-use plastic bags or straws.

Some Republicans worry about the costs of pursuing initiatives for consumers, farmers and businesses, questioning whether Kansas could effectively lessen the problem. But some of them doubt it’s a problem compelling enough to address and express opinions at odds with most scientists’ views.

“The planet goes in cycles, and it’s a natural cycle,” said House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican. “They think that the globe is warming. And guess what? If you go back through history, it did, and then it cools down, and then it warms and then it cools down.”

Rabbi Moti Rieber, executive director of the Kansas Interfaith Alliance, said lawmakers have avoided tackling climate change in recent years “as the situation continues to get worse.” Of the 71 billion-dollar natural disasters the federal government says have affected Kansas over the past 40 years, more than half, or 37, occurred in the past decade, even with damage figures adjusted for inflation.

“It’s frustrating beyond belief,” Rieber said during the hearing on the bill dealing with plastic bags. “We’re fiddling while the world burns.”

Oil and natural gas production remain an important industry in Kansas, but it’s also made big strides on clean energy because of a wind-farm boom over the past decade.

Portugal’s parliament votes to allow euthanasia
Author: BARRY HATTON, Associated Press

LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s parliament voted Thursday in favor of allowing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill people.

The landmark vote left Portugal poised to become one of the few countries in the world permitting the procedures. However, the country’s president could still attempt to block the legislation.

The 230-seat Republican Assembly, Portugal’s parliament, approved five right-to-die bills, each by a comfortable margin. Left-of-center parties introduced the bills, which had no substantial differences.

Before lawmakers voted, hundreds of people outside the parliament building protested the measures. One banner read, “Euthanasia doesn’t end suffering, it ends life.” Some protesters chanted “Sim a vida!” (“Yes to life!”) and others held up crucifixes and religious effigies.

Inside the parliament building, underlining the historical weight of the moment, each lawmaker was called, in alphabetical order, to state their vote on each bill, instead of voting electronically. Such a lengthy method is usually used only for landmark votes.

After the five bills passed, some lawmakers took photographs with their smartphone of the electronic screen on the wall announcing the results. The bills were approved by margins of between 28 and 41 votes.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who is known to be reluctant about euthanasia, could veto the new law, but parliament can override his veto by voting a second time for approval. The Portuguese president doesn’t have executive powers.

The head of state also could ask the Constitutional Court to review the legislation; Portugal’s Constitution states that human life is “sacrosanct,” though abortion has been legal in the country since 2007.

German gunman called for genocide

HANAU, Germany — A German who shot and killed nine people of foreign background in a rampage that began at a hookah bar frequented by immigrants had posted an online rant calling for the “complete extermination” of many “races or cultures in our midst,” authorities said Thursday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the attack exposed the “poison” of racism in the country.

The gunman, Tobias Rathjen, 43, was found dead at his home along with his mother. Authorities said they were treating the rampage as an act of domestic terrorism.

Turks, ethnic Kurds and people with backgrounds from Bulgaria, Bosnia and Romania were among those killed, according to news reports. Turkey’s ambassador said five of the dead were Turkish citizens. People of Turkish background make up Germany’s single largest minority.

Rathjen opened fire at the hookah bar and a cafe in the Frankfurt suburb of Hanau around 10 p.m. Wednesday, killing several people, then drove about 1.5 miles and fired on a car and a sports bar, claiming more victims. In addition to the dead, six people were injured, one seriously, authorities said.

Hookah lounges are places where people gather to smoke flavored tobacco from Middle Eastern water pipes. Metin Kan, who knew many of the victims, said it was obvious why the gunman chose the neighborhood.

“Look, a hookah bar there, a gaming parlor there, a doner kebab place there — it’s a place frequented by immigrants,” he said. “Why this hatred of foreigners? We all get along here.”

Kadir Kose, who runs a cafe nearby, said he was shocked at the extent of the violence: “This is a whole other level, something we hear about from America.”

The bloodshed came amid growing concerns about far-right violence in Germany and stepped-up efforts to crack down on it, including last week’s detention of a dozen men on suspicion they were planning attacks against politicians and minorities.

“This poison exists in our society and its is responsible for far too many crimes,” Merkel said, citing the killings of 10 people across the country between 2000 and 2007 by a far-right gang, the fatal shooting last year of a regional politician from her party, and a deadly attack outside a synagogue in Halle on Yom Kippur in October.

She pledged to stand up against those who seek to divide Germany.

“There is much to indicate that the perpetrator acted out of far-right extremist, racist motives,” she said. “Out of hatred for people with other origins, other faiths or a different appearance.”

While investigators said it appeared the gunman acted alone, Germany’s federal prosecutor, Peter Frank, said authorities are trying to find out if there were others who knew of or supported the attack. He said his office is looking into any contacts the killer may have had in Germany or abroad.

Peter Beuth, interior minister for the state of Hesse, said it does not appear Rathjen had a criminal record or was on the radar of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency.

Witnesses and surveillance video of the getaway car led authorities quickly to the gunman’s home, where he and his 72-year-old mother were found dead with gunshot wounds, apparently bringing the number of victims killed to 10.

Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib endorses Pete Buttigieg for president
Author: Associated Press

SEATTLE — Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib announced Thursday that he’s endorsing Pete Buttigieg for president and will serve as a Western co-chair for the campaign.

Habib’s announcement comes a day before ballots are sent out to the state’s nearly 4.5 million voters, ahead of the March 10 presidential primary. He’s the first statewide candidate to endorse a candidate in the primary.

The former South Bend, Indiana, mayor was in Seattle last Saturday for a private fundraiser and Habib’s endorsement comes in a week where Washington has drawn two other Democratic nominee candidates to the state. More than 17,000 people were at a rally for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Tacoma Monday night, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has a rally in Seattle on Saturday.

Judge rips PG&E for pre-fires safety record
Author: Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A U.S. judge ripped into Pacific Gas & Electric on Wednesday, saying its executives have put greed before safety and telling officials from the utility blamed for catastrophic California wildfires to plan to add at least 1,100 more tree trimmers to cut the risk of even more blazes.

“I am going to do everything I can to protect this state from more death and destruction from this convicted felon,” U.S. District Judge William Alsup said of PG&E.

He delivered the harsh rebuke of the nation’s largest utility during a court hearing to review how well PG&E has complied with the terms of a five-year criminal probation imposed after its natural gas lines blew up a San Francisco Bay Area neighborhood and killed eight people in 2010. The utility was convicted of six felony counts of falsifying records and safety violations in 2016.

Alsup blasted PG&E for its abysmal track record since its probation began in January 2017. In that time, PG&E’s aging power lines have been blamed for igniting a series of wildfires that killed nearly 130 people and destroyed thousands of homes.

The aftermath saddled PG&E with more than $50 billion in potential liabilities, driving the San Francisco company into bankruptcy 13 months ago.

The judge told PG&E that he believes the fires could have been prevented had it upgraded and maintained its electrical system instead of funneling billions of dollars into shareholder dividends and executive bonuses.

“PG&E poses a threat to the safety of the people of Northern California because you are so far behind,” Alsup said.

New leaders praised

PG&E lawyer Kevin Orsini assured the judge that the company has “fundamentally changed” since hiring a new CEO, Bill Johnson, and overhauling its board of directors last April.

After scolding the utility for its neglect, Alsup complimented its new management team for deliberately turning off power to as many as 2 million people last fall to prevent wildfires during hot, windy weather. Although the outages infuriated and inconvenienced people, the judge said he believes they may have prevented more potentially deadly fires.

“They deserve some credit (for the outages) and having the courage to do it in the face of all the criticism,” Alsup said.

As another firefighting measure, Alsup said he plans to order PG&E to expand its tree-trimming force from roughly 5,400 contractors to 6,500 to help prevent vegetation from falling onto its power lines and igniting.

Alsup did not set a timeline for adding tree trimmers, giving PG&E until March 2 to provide more information about logistical challenges in doing so.

The judge’s harsh words came a day after the head of the California Public Utilities Commission proposed a new enforcement process that could allow the regulatory agency to revoke PG&E’s license if it failed to comply.

“I am very concerned about PG&E’s pattern of safety-related failures,” commission President Marybel Batjer wrote Tuesday.

Batjer’s words largely echoed those of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who appointed her last year. Since December, Newsom has tried to pressure PG&E into taking more radical steps to change its culture and reduce its debt when it comes out of bankruptcy so it can afford to invest an estimated $40 billion into upgrading its decaying electrical grid during the next decade.

Newsom and Batjer have unusual leverage over PG&E because the company needs California to approve its reorganization plan to emerge from bankruptcy by June 30 so it can qualify for coverage from a wildfire insurance fund created by the state last summer.