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PolWorld, Author at POLSKA УКРАЇНА

FACT CHECK: Trump Disdained Jobless Rate, Now Loves It

Donald Trump, the presidential candidate, would not like the way Trump, the president, is crowing about today’s unemployment rate. He’d be calling the whole thing a “hoax.”

Trump raised a red flag about declining jobless numbers during his campaign, denying President Barack Obama any credit. Trump noted that the jobless rate masks the true employment picture by leaving out the millions who have given up looking for work.

But Trump is seeing red no more. The same stats he assailed in 2015 and 2016 now are his proof of “fantastic,” “terrific” economic progress, for which he wants the credit.

That disconnect is part of why Trump’s statements about the economy this past week, some accurate on their face, fall short of the whole truth.

Trump also made the far-fetched claim that the economy is better than it has ever been. And in a week consumed with the dustup over a government shutdown, Trump’s doctor stepped forward with a testament to the president’s health that other physicians found to be too rosy.

A look at some recent remarks away from the din of the budget battle:

Black unemployment

TRUMP: “Black unemployment is the best it’s ever been in recorded history. It’s been fantastic. And it’s the best number we’ve had with respect to black unemployment. We’ve never seen anything even close.” — remarks from Oval Office Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Yes, the black unemployment rate of 6.8 percent is the lowest on record. No, it’s not far and away superior to any time in the past. In 2000, it was within 1 point of today’s record for six months, and as low 7 percent.

As Trump was quick to note as a candidate, the unemployment rate only measures people without jobs who are searching for work. Like other demographic groups, fewer African-Americans are working or looking for work than in the past. Just 62.1 percent of blacks are employed or seeking a job, down from a peak of 66.4 percent in 1999.

The black unemployment rate would be much higher if the rate of black labor force participation was near its levels before the Great Recession.

During the campaign, Trump claimed that real unemployment then was a soaring 42 percent. It’s not quite clear, but he could have been referring to the percentage of the U.S. population without jobs — a figure that includes retirees, stay-at-home parents and students. At the time, he considered the official jobless rate a “phony set of numbers … one of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics.”

Women’s unemployment

TRUMP: “We’re making incredible progress. The women’s unemployment rate hit the lowest level that it’s been in 17 years. Well, that’s something. And women in the workforce reached a record high. … That’s really terrific, and especially since it’s on my watch.” — at women’s event Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Again — yes, but. The 4 percent jobless rate for women is at a 17-year low, just as it is for the overall population. But the labor force participation rate by women is lower today than in 2000. The proportion of women in the workforce is not at a record high.

Overall economy

TRUMP: “Our country is doing very well. Economically, we’ve never had anything like it.” — from Oval Office on Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Never say never. The U.S. economy had better employment stats during the 2000 tech boom, for one example. It’s enjoyed stock market surges before. It’s had blazing, double-digit annual growth, a far cry from the 3.2 percent achieved during the second and third quarters of 2017. That was the best six-month pace since 2014 — hardly the best ever.

The economy added about 170,000 new jobs a month during Trump’s first year. That was slightly below the average of 185,000 in Obama’s last year.

Trump checkup

DR. RONNY JACKSON, White House physician, on his examination of Trump: “I think he’ll remain fit for duty for the remainder of this term and even for the remainder of another term if he’s elected. … His cardiac health is excellent.” — White House briefing Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Physicians not connected with the White House have widely questioned that prediction of seven more years of healthy living and that conclusion about his heart. Cardiac functioning was indeed normal in the tests, according to the readings that were released. But Trump is borderline obese and largely sedentary, with a “bad” cholesterol reading above the norm despite taking medication for it. He’ll be 72 in June. It’s doubtful that most men that age with similar histories and findings would get such a glowing report from their doctors.

Trump has some things in his favor: “incredible genes, I just assume,” said his doctor, and no history of tobacco or alcohol use.

But “by virtue of his age and his gender and the fact he has high cholesterol and that he is in the overweight-borderline obese category, he is at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Ranit Mishori, a primary care physician and professor of family medicine at Georgetown University. “The physician was saying, yes he’s in excellent health — but yes he does have risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Which is why the comment he will remain healthy for the remainder of his term makes little sense to me. How you can make that kind of assessment from a one-point-in-time examination? Just from those four factors he is at a higher risk.”

Trump’s LDL, the bad cholesterol, registered at 143, a number his doctor wants below 120.

Jackson also said Trump has nonclinical coronary atherosclerosis, commonly known as hardening of the arteries from plaque, which is a combination of calcium and cholesterol.

That’s common in people older than 65 and can be a silent contributor to coronary heart disease. Jackson’s conclusion was based on a coronary calcium score of 133, which Mishori called “a little bit concerning” because it could show mild coronary artery disease, although how to interpret these scores isn’t clear-cut. Jackson said he consulted a variety of cardiologists about that calcium score and the consensus was reassuring.

Abortion viewpoints

TRUMP: “Americans are more and more pro-life. You see that all the time. In fact, only 12 percent of Americans support abortion on demand at any time.” — remarks Friday to opponents of abortion rights.

THE FACTS: Neither side of the abortion debate is scoring breakaway support in public opinion research. Gallup said in conjunction with its poll in June: “The dispersion of abortion views today, with the largest segment of Americans favoring the middle position, is broadly similar to what Gallup has found in four decades of measurement.” In short, half said abortion should be “legal only under certain circumstances,” identical to a year earlier, while 29 percent said it should be legal in all circumstances. The smallest proportion, 18 percent, said it should always be illegal.

Americans’ positions on abortion are sufficiently nuanced that both sides of the debate can find polling that supports their point of view. Polling responses on abortion are also highly sensitive to how the questions are asked.

But in the main, the public is not clamoring for abortion to be banned or to be allowed in all cases.

Trump’s claim that only 12 percent support abortion “on demand” may come from a Marist poll sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, which opposes abortion rights. In that poll, 12 percent said abortion should be “available to a woman any time during her entire pregnancy.”

Most polls have found that a distinct minority, though more than 12 percent, think the procedure should be legal in all cases. The percentage was 25 percent in an AP-NORC poll, 21 percent in a Quinnipiac poll, both done in December.

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Mudslides Take Heavy Toll on Immigrants in California Town

Oprah Winfrey and Rob Lowe give Montecito its star power, but it’s people like Antonio and Victor Benitez who keep the wealthy Southern California community running.

The Mexican brothers are gardeners and part of the town’s working-class immigrant population, which suffered outsized losses from the recent mudslides that killed at least 21, injured dozens and damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes.

Antonio and Victor Benitez suffered broken bones and each lost a child. Antonio’s wife was killed. Victor’s wife was killed — her body was found Saturday — and his toddler son was injured.

​Seeking a better life

Nearly a third of those killed in the Jan. 9 mudslides were from immigrant families working in service jobs in the largely white and retired Pacific coast town of 9,000. Many of these families are from developing countries seizing the opportunities provided by the area’s wealth to make a better life for their children.

Among them was 30-year-old Pinit Sutthithepa from Thailand who worked at a Toyota dealership in Santa Barbara and sent money to his wife and two children for years before being able to bring them to the United States in 2016. The mudslides killed him, his 6-year-old son and his 79-year-old stepfather. Crews are still searching for Sutthithepa’s 2-year-old daughter.

His wife and mother were working at a grocery store when rocks and rushing water obliterated their home, Mike Caldwell, Sutthithepa’s boss wrote on a GoFundMe page seeking help for the family.

Martin Cabrera Munoz, 48, worked long hours as a landscaper so he could send money to his children in his native Guanajuato, Mexico. He was sleeping in the room he kept at his boss’s home when an avalanche of mud ripped through the property.

“He wanted to give his kids a better life,” his youngest sister, Diana Montero, told the Los Angeles Times.

​Lost lives, lost livelihoods

His funeral was Wednesday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Santa Barbara, where people are also mourning the deaths in the Benitez family.

The Rev. Pedro Lopez has tried to offer words of comfort to his tight-knit, Spanish-speaking parish, but he knows the healing will be slow and painful.

“We’ve let everyone know the importance of being available to one another to share their grief,” Lopez said.

Many members of the modest church are without work now that the million-dollar homes they cared for have been destroyed by the storm-triggered landslides, which also closed U.S. Highway 101, a major route for commuters between the coastal region’s two major cities, Santa Barbara and Ventura.

A lot of families “can’t get to work because of the freeway closure, or they don’t know where to work now, and they don’t know how they are going to pay rent or buy groceries,” Lopez said.

Asleep when disaster struck

Victor and Antonio Benitez built a thriving gardening business after coming to the United States as teenagers from Mexico, joining their father and another brother.

The two brothers, their wives and children shared a home so they could afford the rent in Montecito, where the median home price is more than $4 million.

They were asleep when the mud and rocks thundered down the hillsides. As it poured in, collapsing the walls, some of the family members tried to escape through the kitchen door but were swept away.

The body of Victor’s son, 10-year-old Jonathan Benitez, was found nearly 2 miles (3 kilometers) away.

“He was quite a popular young man. He took everybody under his wing,” Lopez said, adding that one girl cried when recalling how Jonathan welcomed her to the first communion class.

The body of Jonathan’s mother, 28-year-old Faviola Benitez Calderon, a housekeeper, was located Saturday, another victim of the mudslides.

Antonio and Victor Benitez, and Victor’s toddler son, Ian, remain in the hospital with broken bones and bruises. Antonio Benitez underwent surgery for abdominal injuries from being dragged by the landslide. He is recovering but overwhelmed with grief over the loss of his 27-year-old wife, Marilyn Ramos, and his 3-year-old daughter, Kailly, their only child.

“Antonio wakes up, cries and cries, and then is given a sedative to go back to sleep, only to wake up again later and cry again,” said his sister-in-law, Jennifer Ramos.

Marilyn Ramos was living the American dream that had spurred her to come to the United States at age 20, said her sister, who remained in Marquelia, a small Mexican fishing community south of Acapulco. Ramos met her husband in California.

“All she wanted was to be a mother and have a good family life, which she had,” Jennifer Ramos said.

Loyal customers

Nearly a third of Pamela Viale’s upscale neighborhood in nearby Goleta hired Antonio and Victor Benitez. The brothers worked for her for five years.

“Once people saw what wonderful work they do and what a strong work ethic they have, word spread,” she said. “It grew from one family to 18 families here, and everyone feels strongly about them. They are always willing to go the extra mile, always smiling — very friendly, just amazing people.

“We’re really very devastated by their loss.”

Viale and others organized GoFundMe pages to help the family, who also lost their tools and truck and face mounting medical bills and funeral costs before they can rebuild their lives.

Lori Lieberman, a recording artist who lives part-time in Montecito, said the outpouring of support has been incredible.

“Everyone really loves this family,” she said.

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Kidnapped Americans, Canadians Released in Nigeria

Nigeria’s Kaduna state police command says two Americans and two Canadians kidnapped by gunmen on Tuesday have been released.

Police say the four were kidnapped along Kwoi-Jere road in the Kagarko local government area, Kaduna state.

The gunmen are reported by Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper to have killed two Nigerian policemen who were escorting the foreigners. Kidnappings for ransom are common on the road between Kaduna and Abuja. Two Germans were abducted in the region last February but were later freed.

A Sierra Leone diplomat and former head of the army, Nelson Williams, was kidnapped along the road in 2016 and held for five days before his release.

State Commissioner of Police Agyole Abeh said one suspect has been arrested in connection with the abduction. He said the kidnap victims were released early Saturday, following a “massive manhunt” by police.

Their names have not been released.

Abeh said police are still searching for the remaining suspects in an effort to arrest them and bring them to justice.

State police spokesman Mukhtar Aliyu told reporters that the kidnap victims have been taken to the Nigerian capital, Abuja, and are undergoing medical observation.

Both spokesmen said no ransom was paid.

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With New US Defense Strategy Prioritizing ‘Great Power Competition,’ Mattis Heads to Asia

On Friday, ahead of his trip this weekend to Asia, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis unveiled a major shift in U.S. defense priorities.

“We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists that we’re engaged in today, but great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security,” Mattis said during a speech in Washington.

The U.S. defense chief was rolling out the Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy (NDS), a report that specifically cites “growing threats” posed by China and Russia.

The NDS noted China is using “predatory economics” to intimidate its neighbors, while “militarizing features in the South China Sea.”

Mattis’ trip will take him to Indonesia and Vietnam, two countries that have taken a bolder stance – including modernizing their militaries – to push back on China’s disputed territorial claims in the sea.

Vietnam, in particular, is an increasingly important U.S. partner in the region.

“Vietnam is not an ally of the U.S. – it has a defense policy of no alliances, no bases in the country, no ganging up against a third party. So we’ll have to see where it goes,” said Carl Thayer, an emeritus professor specializing in Southeast Asia at UNSW Canberra.  “But its military modernization has made it very robust.”

But Mattis’ trip could also focus on more immediate priorities in the region, including putting more pressure on North Korea and dealing with the hundreds of Islamic State fighters returning to Southeast Asia from Iraq and Syria.

A reminder that, even though long-term defense priorities may be changing, old problems don’t appear to be going away.

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Mattis Traveling to SE Asia, Amid Shift in Pentagon Strategy

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is traveling to Indonesia and Vietnam – two countries that have taken a bolder stance than others against China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. The trip comes as the Pentagon refocuses its priorities on what it calls the “great power competition” with China and Russia. More from VOA’s Bill Gallo, who is traveling with the secretary.

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US to Seek Death Penalty Against Man Accused of Killing Chinese Scholar     

U.S. prosecutors said Friday they would seek the death penalty for a former University of Illinois graduate student charged with kidnapping and killing a visiting scholar from China. 

Brendt A. Christensen, 28, of Champaign, Illinois, is charged with the June 9, 2017, killing and abduction of Yingying Zhang, 26, an international scholar at the university. 

Christensen was arrested and initially charged with one count of kidnapping, but in a superseding indictment handed down in October, a federal grand jury added an additional count of kidnapping resulting in death and two counts of making false statements to FBI agents.

In a Friday filing with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, where Christensen is being tried, prosecutors wrote that “the circumstances of the (offense of kidnapping resulting in death) are such that in the event the defendant is convicted of committing the crime, a sentence of death is justified.” 

Among other aggravating factors justifying the death sentence, prosecutors said “the offense was committed in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner, in that it involved torture or serious physical abuse; and, that Christensen committed the offense after substantial planning and premeditation.”

Zhang’s body has not been found.

The decision to seek the death penalty in federal criminal cases rests with the country’s top law enforcement officer, and the Justice Department said the decision in the Christensen case was made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

Christensen’s trial is scheduled for February 27.

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Former IBM Developer Sentenced for Espionage, Theft of Trade Secrets

A former software engineer for IBM in China has been sentenced to five years in prison for stealing the source code for highly valuable software developed by the tech company, the U.S. Justice Department announced Friday.

Xu Jiaqiang, 31, was sentenced Thursday by a federal judge in White Plains, New York, months after he pleaded guilty to three counts of economic espionage and three counts of theft, possession and distribution of trade secrets.

Prosecutors said Xu stole the source code for computer performance-enhancing software while working for IBM from 2010 and 2014, with the intent to benefit China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission. 

Acting Assistant Attorney General Dana J. Boente of the Justice Department’s national security division said the agency “will not hesitate to pursue and prosecute those who steal from American businesses.”

Xu, a Chinese national, “is being held accountable for engaging in economic espionage against an American company,” Boente said in a statement.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman for the Southern District of New York said, “Xu’s prison sentence should be a red flag for anyone attempting to illegally peddle American expertise and intellectual property to foreign bidders.”

IBM was not identified in court documents. But a LinkedIn profile of Xu identifies him as a system developer for IBM in China from 2010 to 2014 with a master’s degree from the University of Delaware.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to say whether the company in question was IBM. IBM didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Xu appeared on the FBI’s radar screen in 2014 after the bureau received a tip that Xu, who had by then left the company, claimed to have the source code to one of company’s most closely guarded software packages and was using it in “business ventures” unrelated to its clients.  

The software is described as a cluster file system sold to governments and large companies and used to enhance computer performance.

Undercover FBI agents posing as an investor and project manager for a large data storage company approached Xu, who tried to sell them the software and admitted that he’d built it with stolen source code, according to prosecutors.

IBM employees later confirmed to the FBI that the software had been built by someone with access to the company’s proprietary source code.

Xu was arrested in December 2015 after meeting with an undercover agent at a White Plains hotel.  

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