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Trump’s Border Wall and Other Tools Border Agents Use

President Donald Trump promised to build a southern border wall when he campaigned four years ago, and he spoke about it again during the last presidential debate of 2020. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee has this update on the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border.Camera: Spike Johnson, Christian von PreysingProducer: Elizabeth Lee

US Economy Surges 7.4% From July to September

The U.S. economy surged 7.4% from July to September, the country’s Commerce Department reported Thursday, as businesses began to reopen and consumers, supported by government coronavirus relief assistance, started spending again amid the ongoing pandemic.
 
The third quarter gain partially offset the 9% plunge in the April-to-June period when much of the country’s economic life was shut down as the coronavirus swept into the country from China and Europe.
 
The third quarter advance is the last major economic report before next Tuesday’s presidential and congressional elections, and it could buttress claims by Republican President Donald Trump in his contest against Democratic challenger Joe Biden that the country is on pace for a rapid recovery.
 
The three-month surge translated into a 33.1% annualized rate, a hugely unsustainable figure in a country that is more accustomed to annual gains of 2% to 3%.
 
Economists say they expect the U.S. economy, the world’s largest, to advance again in the last three months of the year, but not as fast as in the third quarter. The U.S. economy for the year is expected to finish smaller than at the end of 2019.
 
Uncertainty lies in the fact that the U.S. is now recording soaring numbers of new coronavirus cases – 70,000 or more daily in recent days – that could curb commerce, as some state officials reimpose restrictions on businesses they previously had lifted.
 
Whether there will be more government coronavirus relief assistance and when – beyond the mostly already spent $3 trillion approved months ago – is also unclear.FILE – A woman walks past a personal finance loan office in Franklin, Tennesee, Oct. 1, 2020.In the last days before next Tuesday’s elections, Trump and fractious Republican and Democratic lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on a new aid package – either the size of it or exactly who might benefit from it. 
There is broad agreement to send a second round of $1,200 checks to most adult Americans and to reinstitute heightened national unemployment benefits on top of less generous state assistance. But the size of the new federal jobless aid and how long it would last have not been settled, nor the scope of more aid for financially troubled businesses and state and local governments.
 
Congress, in a lame-duck legislative session after the Tuesday elections, could act then on the coronavirus relief package, or wait until after either Trump or Biden is sworn in for a new presidential term on January 20.
 
The Labor Department reported Thursday that 751,000 jobless workers filed new claims for unemployment compensation last week, down 40,000 from the week before, and the second straight week the figure has fallen below 800,000.  
 
The agency said 7.7 million workers remain unemployed, but the jobless rate had fallen to 5.3%, an extended improvement from the high point of 14.7% in April.   
 
The recent weekly claims figures are well below the 6.9 million record number of claims filed in late March as the coronavirus swept into the United States but remain above the highest pre-pandemic level in records going back to the 1960s.
 
U.S. employers have called back millions of workers who were laid off during business shutdowns earlier this year, yet some hard-hit businesses have been slow to ramp up their operations again or have closed permanently. This has left workers idled or searching for new employment as coronavirus cases are surging again.
 
In addition, such major corporations as AT&T, Warner Media, Walt Disney, and Allstate, along with several airlines, have announced major layoffs in recent weeks as the U.S. economy works to regain its footing.
 

US Veterans Lean Toward Trump this Election, But Some Are Disillusioned

U.S. military veterans tend to vote Republican in presidential elections, and a majority will likely do so again this year. But VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb talked to some veterans who are reconsidering their political leanings and voting on the issues that matter most to them.
Camera: Adam Greenbaum and Mike Burke 

US Lawmakers Attack Social Media CEOs for Taking Down and Labeling Some Speech

The CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter testified before a Senate committee hearing Wednesday, just days before the U.S. election. Tina Trinh reports.
Producer: Matt Dibble

West Is in Danger of Losing Turkey, US Warns

The United States is warning Turkey against taking any additional steps to operationalize its Russian-made S-400 air defense system, warning there will be consequences even if that risks pushing Ankara closer to an alliance with Moscow.Relations between Washington and Ankara, which have soured in recent years, hit a new low last week when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed his military had FILE – Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks in a televised address in Ankara, Sept. 21, 2020.Erdogan, however, has brushed aside the warnings, telling reporters last week that the U.S. stance “absolutely does not concern us.”Despite the apparent impasse, the U.S. has not given up on finding a way to bring Ankara back into the fold.Cooper, recently back from a visit to Greece and Bulgaria, said the U.S. has encouraged both countries, as well as other NATO allies, to do what they can to “make sure that Turkey remains in the West.”’Significant roles’ for Turkey”It’s to the alliance’s detriment to not have Turkey inside the alliance,” Cooper said. “There are significant roles that they still maintain with us … in the greater security of Europe and in the region.”Whether such efforts can overcome what U.S. officials like Cooper describe as “disruptive actions coming from Moscow to cleave us apart” remains to be seen.If they fail, U.S. officials caution that Ankara, like the U.S. and NATO, could suffer.”The only beneficiary of Turkey leaving the West or being cleaved away from Europe would be Moscow,” Cooper said. “There would be a diminishing return, even for Turkey.”

Trump Claims Lead in Key States Where Most Polls Show Him Trailing

U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters on Wednesday his poll numbers in some battleground states are better than what major surveys show, which have him trailing former Vice President Joe Biden. “Poll numbers are very good. You don’t see the real poll numbers,” said Trump, speaking at his Las Vegas hotel before heading to Arizona for a pair of campaign rallies. A voter sits on the sidewalk as voters wait in long lines to cast their ballots during early voting at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Oct. 28, 2020. The wait to vote was over 4 hours.National polls typically show Biden with a lead of 7 to 8 percentage points lead over Trump, but with about half that margin in key battleground states that are likely to determine the outcome in the Electoral College. “We’re up in almost all of the states that we’re talking about,” according to the president, who said he is “doing fantastically” in Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, and that he is also leading in Michigan and Wisconsin. The surveys that show him behind, contended Trump, are “suppression polls” that “are almost like a campaign contribution” to the Democratic National Committee. Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden attends a virtual public health briefing at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Oct. 28, 2020.According to an FILE – U.S. President Donald Trump departs at the end of a campaign event at Eppley Airfield in Omaha, Nebraska, Oct. 27, 2020.Biden added that Trump “gets his photo op. Then he gets out. He leaves everyone else to suffer the consequences of his failure to make a responsible plan and he just doesn’t care.” Americans are voting early for Tuesday’s presidential election in unprecedented numbers, a product of strong feelings for or against the two main candidates and a desire to avoid large crowds at Election Day polling stations amid the coronavirus pandemic.  About 75 million people have already voted six days ahead of the official Election Day, totaling more than half of the overall 2016 vote count, which was 138.8 million. About two-thirds of America’s early voters have mailed in their ballots, and the rest voted in person at polling places throughout the country. Biden voted Wednesday in Wilmington, Delaware, while Trump cast his ballot on Saturday at a library in West Palm Beach, Florida, near his Mar-a-Lago resort. Voting experts say voter turnout for the contest between Republican Trump and Democratic challenger Biden could be the highest percentage of the electorate since 1908, when 65% of the country’s eligible voters cast ballots. Focus on Arizona U.S. Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris speaks at a campaign event in Phoenix, Arizona, Oct. 28, 2020.On Wednesday, both Trump and Biden’s running mate, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, campaigned in Arizona, a Southwestern state along the Mexican border that Trump won in 2016 against Democrat Hillary Clinton. No Democratic presidential candidate has won there since 1996, but polls now show Biden narrowly ahead. The state has 11 of the 270 electoral votes that either Trump or Biden will need to claim the presidency and be inaugurated on January 20. U.S. presidential elections are decided through an indirect form of democracy in the 538-member Electoral College, not the national popular vote. Vice President Mike Pence speaks at a campaign event in Flint, Mich., Oct. 28, 2020.Vice President Mike Pence was holding rallies Wednesday in two key Midwest states, Wisconsin and Michigan, both of which Trump captured four years ago. Ken Bredemeier in Washington contributed to this report.

FBI Arrests Five People in China’s ‘Operation Fox Hunt’

The FBI arrested five people Wednesday in connection with a scheme to force a former Chinese municipal official and his family residing in the United States to return to China, as part of China’s “Operation Fox Hunt” anti-corruption campaign.  The five men, including a naturalized U.S. citizen, were arrested in New Jersey, New York and California early Wednesday morning, officials said. Three others, also charged in connection with the scheme, remain at large in China. The defendants face charges of serving as illegal agents of China for allegedly participating in a campaign to “harass, stalk and coerce” U.S. residents to return to China as part of Operation Fox Hunt, the Justice Department said. Operation Fox Hunt was launched in 2014 as part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s sweeping anti-graft campaign. The program’s purported aim was the arrest of thousands of corrupt Chinese officials and businessmen who had fled abroad. US says dissidents real targetsU.S. officials say Operation Fox Hunt is an “extralegal repatriation effort” designed to target Chinese dissidents around the world. “With today’s charges, we have turned the PRC’s Operation Fox Hunt on its head. The hunters became the hunted, the pursuers the pursued,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said at a news conference. “The five defendants the FBI arrested this morning on these charges of illegally doing the bidding of the Chinese government here in the United States now face the prospect of prison.”  A criminal complaint unsealed in court Wednesday alleges the defendants surveilled, threatened and harassed the unidentified resident of New Jersey, as well as an unidentified woman, as part of an international campaign to force him to return to China. The complaint describes the first victim as a former official in a Chinese city government who has resided in the United States since 2010. In April 2017, they forced the first victim’s elderly father to travel to the U.S and sought to use his unexpected arrival to coerce the victim to return to China. In September 2018, two conspirators affixed a threatening note to the door of the victim’s residence. “If you are willing to go back to (the) mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right. That’s the end of this matter!” the note read. Messages on social mediaThe criminal complaint says the defendants later conducted surveillance of the victim’s adult daughter and sent her and her friends threatening messages on social media as part of the campaign to force her father to return to China.  “The Chinese government’s brazen attempts to surveil, threaten and harass our own citizens and lawful permanent residents, while on American soil, are part of China’s diverse campaign of theft and malign influence in our country and around the world,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said.  The five arrested defendants were identified as Zhu Yong, Hongru Jin, Michael McMahon, Rong Jing and Zheng Congying.  McMahon, a private investigator, is accused of gathering intelligence about the victim and his wife and locating their whereabouts. Operation Fox Hunt is run by China’s Ministry of Public Security. Since its launch, hundreds of Chinese “fugitives” have been brought back to China to stand trial, some of them voluntarily, and others after being arrested in foreign countries.  

2020 Election Puts Focus on Twitter, Facebook Content Moderation

The nation’s top technology leaders urged U.S. lawmakers Wednesday to keep content moderation protections in place, despite growing calls from Republicans to address perceived bias in the way social media companies handle free speech online.  Online companies are shielded from liability for content on their sites under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.  Those protections apply to companies of all sizes operating online that use third-party content. But some Republicans contend Section 230 is a “carve-out” for larger companies such as Facebook and Twitter, allowing them to censor content based on political viewpoints and use their considerable reach to influence public discourse.  U.S. President Donald Trump called for an end to Section 230 in a Tweet Wednesday, saying “The USA doesn’t have Freedom of the Press, we have Suppression of the Story, or just plain Fake News. So much has been learned in the last two weeks about how corrupt our Media is, and now Big Tech, maybe even worse. Repeal Section 230!”  President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at MotorSports Management Company, in West Salem, Wis., Oct. 27, 2020.At issue is whether or not a company that moderates content is a publisher instead of a platform and if the reach of companies such Facebook, Google and Twitter constitutes a monopoly.  “Companies are actively blocking and throttling the distribution of content on their own platforms and are using protections under Section 230 to do it. Is it any surprise that voices on the right are complaining about hypocrisy, or even worse?” Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker said Wednesday.  Section 230 has received renewed attention during the 2020 presidential election cycle due to online companies’ new approaches to content moderation in response to foreign interference on online platforms during the 2016 elections cycle.  Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey pushed back against that in prepared testimony Wednesday, saying, “We should remember that Section 230 has enabled new companies—small ones seeded with an idea—to build and compete with established companies globally. Eroding the foundation of Section 230 could collapse how we communicate on the Internet, leaving only a small number of giant and well-funded technology companies.”  Dorsey told lawmakers one possible approach that is “within reach” would allow users to choose between Twitter’s own algorithm that determines what content is viewable, and algorithms developed by third parties.Wicker said his staff had collected “dozens and dozens” of examples of conservative content that he says has been censored and suppressed over the past four years by Twitter. He alleged the social media company had allowed Chinese Communist propaganda about COVID-19 to remain up for two months while President Donald Trump’s claims about mail-in ballots were immediately taken down.  Earlier this month, Twitter blocked users from sharing a link to a news story on Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. Twitter also locked the accounts of President Trump and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany for sharing the story, citing its policies for how hacked materials are shared on its website. Based on these actions, Republican Senator Ted Cruz accused Twitter of attempting to influence U.S. elections.  “Your position is that that you can sit in Silicon Valley and demand of the media that you can tell them what stories they can publish; you can tell the American people what reporting they can hear,” Cruz said to Dorsey Wednesday.  The Twitter CEO has apologized for the decision, tweeting, “Straight blocking of URLs was wrong, and we updated our policy and enforcement to fix. Our goal is to attempt to add context, and now we have capabilities to do that.”  Facebook also restricted sharing of the Hunter Biden story, saying it would first need a third-party fact check.  The social media company had allowed Russian disinformation to flood the site during the 2016 election, but Facebook instituted new policies this election cycle. According to its website, Facebook’s response includes the removal of 6.5 billion fake accounts in 2019, adding third-party factcheckers to go over content posted on the site as well as removing 30 networks engaged in coordinated, inauthentic behavior.  “Without Section 230, platforms could potentially be held liable for everything people say. Platforms would likely censor more content to avoid legal risk and would be less likely to invest in technologies that enable people to express themselves in new ways,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told lawmakers Wednesday.  Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears on a screen as he speaks remotely during a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill, Oct. 28, 2020, in Washington.Congressional Democrats expressed concern about the growth of extremist groups online as well as continuing attempts at foreign election interference on social media platforms, questioning the timing of the hearing.“I am appalled that my Republican colleagues are holding this hearing literally days before an election, when they seem to want to bully and browbeat the platforms here to try to tilt toward President Trump’s favor. The timing seems inexplicable except to game the referee,” said Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. “President Trump has broken all the norms. And he has put on your platforms, potentially dangerous and lethal misinformation and disinformation.”  In an earlier line of questioning, Dorsey told lawmakers Twitter does not maintain lists of accounts to watch, but bases content moderation based on algorithms and service user requests.   Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer at Google, also stated the company’s commitment toward independence, telling lawmakers, “We approach our work without political bias, full stop. To do otherwise would be contrary to both our business interests and our mission, which compels us to make information accessible to every type of person, no matter where they live or what they believe.” 

Trump Administration Sets Record Low Limit for New US Refugees

The Trump administration has slashed the number of refugees it will allow to resettle in the United States in the coming year, capping the number at 15,000, a record low in the history of the country’s modern refugee program.
President Donald Trump finalized his plan in a memo overnight and said the ceiling for fiscal 2021, which started this month, includes 6,000 unused placements from last year “that might have been used if not for the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Republican president, seeking re-election on Nov. 3, has taken a hard line toward legal and illegal immigration, including sharply curbing refugee admissions every year since taking office in 2017.
In his statement, Trump said any new refugees this year should be placed by the U.S. State Department in parts of the country open to hosting them.
“Newly admitted refugees should be placed, to the maximum extent possible, in States and localities that have clearly expressed their willingness to receive refugees” and “resettled in communities that are eager and equipped to support their successful integration into American society and the labor force,” Trump said.
Critics say that Trump has abandoned a longstanding U.S. role as a safe haven for persecuted people and that cutting refugee admissions undermines other foreign policy goals.
Trump’s Democratic rival and former Vice President Joe Biden has pledged to raise refugee admissions to 125,000 a year if he defeats Trump, although advocates have said the program could take years to recover.
Tens of thousands of refugees have applications in the pipeline for the United States, even as increased vetting by the Trump administration and the novel coronavirus have slowed arrivals for the 2020 fiscal year, which had an 18,000 quota.
Trump’s 2021 plan allocates 5,000 slots for refugees facing religious persecution, 4,000 for refugees from Iraq who helped the United States, and 1,000 for refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, leaving 5,000 for others.
It bans refugees from Somalia, Syria and Yemen except in cases of “special humanitarian concern,” citing terrorism risk.

US Fringe Group’s Conspiracy Theories Find Following in Germany

An unexpected consequence of the COVID crisis in Germany has been the rapid increase in followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory. As Jacob Russell reports from Berlin, Germany now has the second largest following outside the United States as more people become skeptical of their government’s good intentions.Camera:  Jacob Russell 
Producer:  Jason Godman