Facebook’s Zuckerberg Comes Under Fire From UK, US Lawmakers

Lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic criticized Facebook and its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, after reports surfaced that another company, Cambridge Analytica, improperly harvested information from 50 million Facebook users.

A British lawmaker accused Facebook on Sunday of misleading officials by downplaying the risk of users’ data being shared without their consent.

Conservative legislator Damian Collins, who heads the British Parliament’s media committee, said he would ask Zuckerberg or another Facebook executive to appear before his panel, which is investigating disinformation and “fake news.”

Collins said Facebook has “consistently understated” the risk of data leaks and gave misleading answers to the committee.

“Someone has to take responsibility for this,” he said. “It’s time for Mark Zuckerberg to stop hiding behind his Facebook page.”

Collins also accused the head of the U.K.-based data firm Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, of lying. Nix told the committee last month that his firm had not received data from a researcher accused of obtaining millions of Facebook users’ personal information.

In Washington, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, said on Twitter that Zuckerberg “needs to testify before Senate Judiciary.”

“This is a major breach that must be investigated,” Klobuchar, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said. “It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves.”

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, echoed Klobuchar’s complaint.

“This is more evidence that the online political advertising market is essentially the Wild West,” he said. “It’s clear that, left unregulated, this market will continue to be prone to deception and lacking in transparency.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said on Twitter that “Massachusetts residents deserve answers” and announced that her office will investigate.

The officials reacted to reports in The New York Times and The Guardian of London that Cambridge Analytica, which is best known for working on President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, had improperly obtained Facebook user data and retained it after claiming it had deleted the information.

Former Cambridge Analytica employee Chris Wylie said that the company obtained information from 50 million Facebook users, using it to build psychological profiles so voters could be targeted with ads and stories.

Wylie told Britain’s Channel 4 news that the company was able to amass a huge database very quickly from an app developed by an academic that vacuumed up data from Facebook users who agreed to fill out a survey, as well as their friends and contacts – a process of which most were unaware.

“Imagine I go and ask you: I say, ‘Hey, if I give you a dollar, two dollars, could you fill up this survey for me, just do it on this app’, and you say, ‘Fine,'” he said. “I don’t just capture what your responses are, I capture all of the information about you from Facebook. But also this app then crawls through your social network and captures all of that data also.”

Wylie said that allowed the company to get roughly “50 million plus” Facebook records in several months and he criticized Facebook for facilitating the process.

“Why Facebook didn’t make more inquiries when they started seeing that, you know, tens of millions of records were being pulled this way, I don’t know,” he said.

Lawmaker Collins said he would summon Nix to reappear before the Parliament committee.

“It seems clear that he has deliberately misled the committee and Parliament by giving false statements,” Collins said.

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AP Exclusive: Kushner Cos. Filed False NYC Housing Ppaperwork

When the Kushner Cos. bought three apartment buildings in a gentrifying neighborhood of Queens in 2015, most of the tenants were protected by special rules that prevent developers from pushing them out, raising rents and turning a tidy profit.

But that’s exactly what the company then run by Jared Kushner did, and with remarkable speed. Two years later, it sold all three buildings for $60 million, nearly 50 percent more than it paid.

Now a clue has emerged as to how President Donald Trump’s son-in-law’s firm was able to move so fast: The Kushner Cos. routinely filed false paperwork with the city declaring it had zero rent-regulated tenants in dozens of buildings it owned across the city when, in fact, it had hundreds.

While none of the documents during a three-year period when Kushner was CEO bore his personal signature, they provide a window into the ethics of the business empire he ran before he went on to become one of the most trusted advisers to the president of the United States.

“It’s bare-faced greed,” said Aaron Carr, founder of Housing Rights Initiative, a tenants’ rights watchdog that compiled the work permit application documents and shared them with The Associated Press. “The fact that the company was falsifying all these applications with the government shows a sordid attempt to avert accountability and get a rapid return on its investment.”

Kushner Cos. responded in a statement that it outsources the preparation of such documents to third parties that are reviewed by independent counsel, and “if mistakes or violations are identified, corrective action is taken immediately.”

“Kushner would never deny any tenant their due-process rights,” it said, adding that the company “has renovated thousands of apartments and developments with minimal complaints over the past 30 years.”

For the three Queens buildings in the borough’s Astoria neighborhood, the Kushner Cos. checked a box on construction permit applications in 2015 that indicated the buildings had zero rent-regulated tenants. Tax records filed a few months later showed the company inherited as many as 94 rent-regulated units from the previous owner.

In all, Housing Rights Initiative found the Kushner Cos. filed at least 80 false applications for construction permits in 34 buildings across New York City from 2013 to 2016, all of them indicating there were no rent-regulated tenants. Instead, tax documents show there were more than 300 rent-regulated units. Nearly all the permit applications were signed by a Kushner employee, including sometimes the chief operating officer.

Had the Kushner Cos. disclosed those rent-regulated tenants, it could have triggered stricter oversight of construction crews by the city, including possibly unscheduled “sweeps” on site by inspectors to keep the company from harassing tenants and getting them to leave.

Instead, current and former tenants of the Queens buildings told the AP that they were subjected to extensive construction, with banging, drilling, dust and leaking water that they believe were part of targeted harassment to get them to leave and clear the way for higher-paying renters.

“It was noisy, there were complaints, I got mice,” said mailman Rudolph Romano, adding that he also bristled at a 60 percent rent increase, a hike the Kushner Cos. contends was initiated by the previous landord. “They cleaned the place out. I watched the whole building leave.”

Tax records show those rent-regulated units that numbered as many as 94 when Kushner took over fell to 25 by 2016.

In Kushner buildings across the city, records show frequent complaints about construction going on early in the morning or late at night against the rules, improper or illegal construction, and work without a permit.

At a six-story walk-up in Manhattan’s East Village that was once home to the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, the Kushner Cos. filed an application to begin construction in late 2013 that, again, listed zero rent-regulated tenants. Tax records a few months later showed seven rent-regulated units.

“All of a sudden, there was drilling, drilling. … You heard the drilling in the middle of night,” said one of the rent-regulated tenants, Mary Ann Siwek, 67, who lives on Social Security payments and odd jobs. “There were rats coming in from the abandoned building next door. The hallways were always filled with lumber and sawdust and plaster.”

A knock on the door came a few weeks later, and an offer of at least $10,000 if she agreed to leave the building.

“I know it’s pretty horrible, but we can help you get out,” Siwek recalls the man saying. “We can offer you money.”

Siwek turned down the cash and sued instead. She said she won a year’s worth of free rent and a new refrigerator.

New York City Council member Ritchie Torres, who plans to launch an investigation into permit applications, said: “The Kushners appear to be engaging in what I call the weaponization of construction.”

Rent stabilization is a fixture of New York City that can bedevil developers seeking to make money off buildings. To free themselves of its restrictions, landlords usually have to wait until the rent rises above $2,733 a month, something that can take years given the small increases allowed each year.

Submitting false documents to the city’s Department of Buildings for construction permits is a misdemeanor, which can carry fines of up to $25,000. But real estate experts say it is often flouted with little to no consequences. Landlords who do so get off with no more than a demand from the city, sometimes a year or more later, to file an “amended” form with the correct numbers.

Housing Rights Initiative found the Kushner Cos. filed dozens of amended forms for the buildings mentioned in the documents, most of them a year to two later.

“There is a lack of tools to go after landlords who harass tenants, and there is a lack of enforcement,” said Seth Miller, a real estate lawyer who used to work at a state housing agency overseeing rent regulations. Until officials inspect every construction site, “you’re going to have this incentive for landlords to make life uncomfortable for tenants.”

New York City’s Department of Buildings did not comment in general about the false filings by the Kushner Cos., but said it disciplined a contractor who filed false documents while working on two of the Queens buildings, which are currently under investigation by a tenant-harassment task force. It added that the department is also ramping up its monitoring of construction, hiring 72 new inspectors under city laws recently passed to crack down on tenant harassment.

“We won’t tolerate landlords who use construction to harass tenants – no matter who they are,” spokesman Joseph Soldevere said.

Exactly how much money the Kushner Cos. earned from the buildings mentioned in the documents is unclear. Of those 34 buildings, only the three in Queens and a fourth in Brooklyn appear to have been sold. The company also likely made money by reducing the number of rent-regulated tenants and bringing in those who would pay more.

Jared Kushner, who stepped down as CEO of the Kushner Cos. last year before taking on his advisory role at the White House, sold off part of his real estate holdings as required under government ethics rules. But he retained stakes in many properties, including Westminster Management, the Kushner Cos. subsidiary that oversees its residential properties. A financial disclosure last year showed he still owns a stake in Westminster and earned $1.6 million from the holding.

Back in Queens, the mailman Romano was one of the few rent-regulated tenants who fought back.

He hired a lawyer who found out he was protected from the 60-percent rent hike by law, something Romano did not know at the time. And he said his rent, which was set to increase to $3,750, was restored to $2,350.

Romano is still in the building where he has lived for nine years, with his wife, four children and his guests from the construction days – the mice.

“I still haven’t gotten rid of them.”

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New York Starts Construction of Morphing Art Stage

Artists and their audiences in New York City will soon have access to a giant stage that can morph into different shapes. “The Shed,” being built on Manhattan’s West Side, will invite visual and performance artists to experiment with a transformable space in which they can present their art. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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In California, Men Can Get Their Blood Pressure Checked in Barbershops

Visiting the doctor to get your blood pressure checked might be stressful and time consuming, but what if you could get a check-up at your regular barbershop instead? That’s the idea behind a recent study in Los Angeles, where pharmacists are working with 52 barbershops to try to help African-American men, who have higher rates of high blood pressure than other ethnic groups. Faiza Elmasry has the story, narrated by Faith Lapidus.

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Women ‘Weed Warriors’ Leading the Way in US Pot Revolution

The pot revolution is alive and well in the state of Colorado where recreational cannabis has been legal since 2014. While the full impact of legal marijuana in Colorado has yet to be determined, what is clear is that cannabis has become a giant moneymaker for the state. And as Paula Vargas reports from Denver, women entrepreneurs — weed warriors, as some have called them — are leading the way.

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Analysts Predict Tougher Stance on Iran, North Korea Under Pompeo

With Rex Tillerson’s abrupt firing as U.S. secretary of state Tuesday, the focus is now on President Donald Trump’s choice to take his place, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and what this change would mean for U.S. foreign policy.

“He had a lot of ‘face time’ with President Trump. He impressed Trump, is a loyalist. So you’ll have a loyal foreign policy out of the State Department,”  Ariel Cohen of the Atlantic Council said. “You also have somebody with an intelligence and military background.”

WATCH: Under Pompeo Analysts Expect More Reliance on US Military Strength

Congressional confirmation hearings for the secretary of state nominee will be held next month, with Pompeo possibly taking the helm of the State Department just weeks after the Trump administration agreed to enter into talks with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

Days ago, in an emotional farewell at the State Department briefing room, Tillerson cited what he views as one of the achievements of his tenure, the success of the U.S.-led maximum pressure campaign of sanctions on North Korea.

“First, working with allies, we exceeded the expectations of almost everyone with the DPRK maximum pressure campaign,” Tillerson said Tuesday, just hours after his reported firing.

Pompeo and Pyongyang

Tillerson’s designated replacement, Pompeo, has often taken a hardline approach to North Korea, emphasizing the existential threat Pyongyang’s nuclear missiles pose to cities on the U.S mainland.

“We have a threat from flash points that something could spark and have a conventional war, right, wholly apart from the issues we talk about with ICBMs and nuclear,” Pompeo told the Senate Intelligence Committee last May.

The CIA director has been loyal to the president, and after Trump’s surprise announcement last week that he is willing to meet with North Korea’s Kim, he went on several news shows to voice his support for the decision.

“President Trump isn’t doing this for theater. He’s going to solve a problem,” Pompeo told Fox News Sunday. 

“Kim Jong Un now has committed to stopping nuclear testing, stopping missile tests, allowing exercises to go forward, something that has been incredibly contentious in the past,” he said, calling Pyongyang’s commitments “real achievements.”

Hardline on Iran

The former Republican congressman has been a vocal critic of the landmark Iran nuclear deal ever since it was signed in 2015.

“The (deal) can perhaps delay Iran’s nuclear weapons program for a few years. … Conversely, it has virtually guaranteed that Iran will have the freedom to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons at the end of the commitment,” Pompeo wrote in opposition to the deal while serving as a U.S. representative.

In 2016 he tweeted, “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.” His personal Twitter account has since been deactivated.

Based on his past tough statements on North Korea, China and Iran, many analysts say Pompeo, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, will likely rely more on U.S. military strength, and be less supportive of international agreements than Tillerson.

Pompeo has made statements advocating “regime change” in Iran and North Korea.

“I think Pompeo is more of a hawk, more of a Trumpian, more of this sort of new wave of what I would call American nationalism, and we see countries becoming more nationalistic all over the world,” Atlantic Council’s Cohen said.

And some worry that Pompeo’s confirmation makes it more likely the United States will pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, and subsequently jeopardize any diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang.

“There is no way in the world that throwing out a valid agreement (the Iran nuclear deal) that is working would increase your negotiating leverage with North Korea,” said Thomas Countryman, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation. “Rather, it should cause the North Korean leader to ask himself, How can I sign any agreement with the president who’s prepared to break every previous agreement?’”

Countryman told VOA he is concerned about the shake-up at the State Department, because he believes Tillerson has good instincts on foreign policy and was a moderating influence on Trump.

Pompeo on Russian meddling

When it comes to Russia, Pompeo has gone further than Trump in calling out Moscow for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“It’s pretty clear about what took place here about Russian involvements in efforts to hack information and to have an impact on American democracy,” Pompeo told a Senate panel at his confirmation hearing to become the CIA director in January 2017.

But he also met with the heads of Russia’s three intelligence services during their unprecedented visit to Washington earlier this year.

Pompeo has said Russian interference had no impact on the outcome of the 2016 race for the White House, which is not something U.S. intelligence agencies say they are even qualified to assess.

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Trump Signs Taiwan Travel Act

U.S. President Donald Trump has signed legislation that encourages U.S. officials to travel to Taiwan to meet their counterparts and vice versa, a move that has angered China.

The president signed the Taiwan Travel Act late Friday.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said Saturday that the self-ruled island’s government would “continue to uphold the principles of mutual trust and mutual benefit to maintain close contact and communication with the U.S.”

U.S. and Taiwan officials already travel back and forth between the two countries, but the visits are usually kept low profile to avoid offending China.

China considers Taiwan a wayward province and seeks the island’s reunification with China.

After Trump signed the legislation, the Chinese embassy said in a statement that clauses in the travel act “severely violate the one-China principle, the political foundation of the China-U.S. relationship.”

China said the Taiwan Travel Act violated U.S. commitments not to restore direct official contacts with Taiwan that were severed when Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

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Afghan Interpreter Injured in Attack in Oregon

Mohammed Fawad Mohammadi survived the war in his native Afghanistan, where he served as an interpreter for U.S. military forces.

Now he is in a hospital, with part of his leg amputated after a man in Oregon hit Mohammadi with his car and then accelerated at him again.

Perry George Nicolopoulos was indicted late Thursday on 16 charges, including attempted murder, in the attack in Lincoln City, according to court records. Mohammadi’s wife and their year-old son narrowly escaped injury in the attack that shocked the coastal tourist town.

Police have found no evidence that Nicolopoulos, whose last known address was Tacoma, Washington, committed a hate crime, said Lt. Jerry Palmer of the Lincoln City Police Department.

“We don’t know his mindset. We have no idea what his motivations were, or his mental state, other than that he was under the influence,” Palmer said. One of the charges Nicolopoulos is facing is drunken driving.

More investigation urged

A group that monitors anti-Muslim discrimination and hate crimes, however, is calling for a more thorough investigation.

“Given the unprecedented rise in anti-Muslim hate incidents in recent years … we urge law enforcement authorities to look into possibility of a bias motive in this,” Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said.

Mohammadi served in combat zones with U.S. forces.

“He survived that, and came here and had this happen,” Hooper said.

Car rammed three times

The attack happened March 6 in the parking lot of a Walgreens drug store off coastal Highway 101.

First, Nicolopoulos’ car hit Mohammadi’s Toyota Prius. Mohammadi and his wife, Nelab Sarabi, got out to inspect the damage and exchange insurance information, leaving their son inside, when Nicolopoulos drove into their car again, according to an affidavit.

This time, Mohammadi was hit, and was pinned by Nicolopoulos’ car to his own car door. Nicolopoulos’ car reversed and crashed into the Prius again before driving away.

Police found Nicolopoulos’ license plate embedded in the Prius.

“We’re used to seeing crashes, but for an individual to deliberately, for whatever reason, to decide to use his vehicle as a weapon makes everybody wonder what this person’s mindset was and what drove him to do this,” Palmer said.

Mohammadi, who was flown to a hospital in Portland, described seeing his attacker.

“The airbag was in his face, but he was very relaxed. At that time, I thought, ‘This is an attack. It’s not an accident,’” Mohammadi told the Lake Oswego Review, a newspaper in the Portland suburb where he works in a food market.

Leg amputated

Doctors amputated Mohammadi’s leg about 6 inches below the knee, according to a GoFundMe page raising funds for the family. As of Friday, more than half of the $100,000 goal had been raised. Many of the commenters thanked Mohammadi for his service to the United States and wished him a speedy recovery.

Nicolopoulos, 68, is in the county jail on $1 million bail. He has been assigned a court-appointed attorney, who did not respond to a phone call.

Nicolopoulos has had numerous run-ins with the law in Washington state, including a case in which he pleaded guilty to third-degree assault in 2001 and another in which he pleaded guilty to malicious mischief in 1996.

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Steve Jobs Pre-Apple Job Application Fetches $174,000 at Auction

A one-page job application filled out by Steve Jobs more than four decades ago that reflected the Apple founder’s technology aspirations sold for $174,000 at a U.S. auction, more than three times its presale estimate.

An Internet entrepreneur from England was the winning bidder, Boston-based auction house RR Auction said on Friday, but the buyer wished to remain anonymous.

The application dated 1973, complete with spelling and punctuation errors, had been expected to fetch about $50,000.

The sale price reached on Thursday was $174,757, the auction house said.

The form lists his name as “Steven jobs” and address as “reed college,” the Portland, Oregon, college he attended briefly. Next to “Phone:” he wrote “none.”

Under a section titled “Special Abilities,” Jobs wrote “tech or design engineer. digital.—f rom Bay near Hewitt-Packard,” a reference to pioneering California technology company Hewlett-Packard and the San Francisco Bay area.

The document does not state what position or company the application was intended for. Jobs and friend Steve Wozniak founded Apple about three years later.

RR Auction said the high price reflected the continuing influence of Jobs, who died of cancer in 2011 at the age of 56.

“There are many collectors who have earned disposable income over the last few decades using Apple technology, and we expect similarly strong results on related material in the future,”

Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction, said in a statement.

Other highlights from the online auction included an Apple Mac OS X technical manual signed by Jobs in 2001 that sold for $41,806 and a rare signed newspaper clipping from 2008 featuring an image of Jobs speaking at the Apple Developers Conference that sold for $26,950.

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