National topics - Facebook data, trade wars and McMaster- What's Your Point?

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This week's panel:   Bob Price – Associate Editor Breitbart Texas, Tomaro Bell – super neighborhood leader, Tony Diaz- Chicano educator and activist, Marcus Davis - host of "Sunday Morning Live", Bill King - businessman, columnist and former Kemah Mayor, and Jessica Colon -  conservative strategist, join Greg Groogan  discussing a variety of national topics, trade wars, Facebook data and Cambridge Analytica and McMaster and the Mueller investigation.

 

LONDON (AP) - Britain's information regulator said Saturday it was assessing evidence gathered from a raid on the office of data mining firm Cambridge Analytica, part of an investigation into alleged misuse of personal information by political campaigns and social media companies like Facebook.

More than a dozen investigators from the Information Commissioner's Office entered the company's central London office late Friday, shortly after a High Court judge granted a warrant. The investigators were seen leaving the premises early Saturday after spending about seven hours searching the office.

The regulator said it will "consider the evidence before deciding the next steps and coming to any conclusions."

"This is one part of a larger investigation by the ICO into the use of personal data and analytics by political campaigns, parties, social media companies and other commercial actors," it said.

Authorities in Britain as well as the U.S. are investigating Cambridge Analytica over allegations the firm improperly obtained data from 50 million Facebook users and used it to manipulate elections, including the 2016 White House race and the 2016 Brexit vote in Britain.

Both Cambridge Analytica and Facebook deny wrongdoing.

The data firm suspended its CEO Alexander Nix this week after Britain's Channel 4 News broadcast footage that appeared to show Nix suggesting tactics like entrapment or bribery that his company could use to discredit politicians. The footage also showed Nix saying Cambridge Analytica played a major role in securing Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Cambridge Analytica's acting chief executive, Alexander Tayler, said Friday that he was sorry that SCL Elections, an affiliate of his company, "licensed Facebook data and derivatives from a research company (Global Science Research) that had not received consent from most respondents" in 2014.

"The company believed that the data had been obtained in line with Facebook's terms of service and data protection laws," Tayler said.

His statement said the data was deleted in 2015 at Facebook's request, and denied that any of the Facebook data that Cambridge Analytica obtained was used in the work it did on the 2016 U.S. election.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Special counsel Robert Mueller is scrutinizing the connections between President Donald Trump's campaign and the data mining firm Cambridge Analytica, which has come under fierce criticism over reports that it swiped the data of more than 50 million Facebook users to sway elections.

Mueller's investigators have asked former campaign officials about the Trump campaign's data operations, particularly about how it collected and utilized voter data in battleground states, according to a person with direct knowledge of the line of inquiry but not authorized to discuss it publicly.

The investigators have also asked some of Trump's data team, which included analysts at the Republican National Committee, about its relationship with Cambridge Analytica, according to two former campaign officials. The campaign paid the firm just under $6 million for its work in 2016, according to federal records.

Authorities in Britain and the United States are investigating whether Cambridge Analytica may have used data improperly obtained from Facebook to try to influence elections, including the 2016 White House race.

Mueller is leading a criminal probe into whether Trump's Republican presidential campaign had ties to Russia and whether he may have obstructed justice.

The Trump campaign has distanced itself from the data mining firm, which had been financed by major Republican donors and, for a time, employed Steve Bannon, the conservative provocateur who later became Trump's campaign chief executive.

Trump turned to Twitter on Thursday to boast about his campaign's social media efforts compared with those of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, but it was not clear what prompted the declaration.

"Remember when they were saying, during the campaign, that Donald Trump is giving great speeches and drawing big crowds, but he is spending much less money and not using social media as well as Crooked Hillary's large and highly sophisticated staff. Well, not saying that anymore!" Trump wrote.

A request for an explanation from the White House was not returned.

The exact role that Cambridge Analytica played for the Trump campaign has remained murky.

Staffers at Cambridge Analytica made several overtures to the Trump campaign before eventually being retained. They first requested a meeting in spring 2015, before the celebrity businessman officially announced his candidacy, according to four former campaign officials who were not authorized to publicly discuss internal operations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Alexander Nix, the Cambridge Analytica CEO captured on a sting video released this week, met with then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to make a pitch for the data-mining company's voter target products, including its so-called psychographic method.

Lewandowski passed, in part because the staff believed Trump would not be willing to make a sizable financial investment in an analytics firm, according to two of the campaign officials.

Cambridge then went to work for the campaign of Trump's Republican rivals Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. But after Trump became the GOP's presumptive nominee, the data firm reached out again, this time to Paul Manafort, who had replaced Lewandowski to become campaign chairman.

Manafort was also skeptical about the effectiveness of the firm's methods, but Cambridge was hired, in part as a friendly gesture to the Mercer family, heavyweight Republican donors who helped fund the company's launch a few years earlier, according to one of the former campaign officials.

With the Trump campaign concerned that the RNC might not fully invest in Trump - he had clashed repeatedly with the organization - Cambridge was retained. Campaign finance records indicate that the Trump campaign's first payment of $100,000 to the firm came in July 2016.

Five of the firm's staff members were assigned to work with the campaign's digital director, Brad Parscale, at his Texas-based firm, where much of the campaign's digital operation was located.

Parscale and Jared Kushner, the candidate's son-in-law, emphasized using social media - and particularly Facebook - to better target voters and pressed its importance on Trump.

The campaign tapped Cambridge to build out a database of small-dollar GOP donors, a dataset the company had from its prior work for the Cruz and Carson campaigns.

But when it became clear the RNC would share its much-improved data operation with the Trump campaign, Cambridge became de-emphasized. Two of the former campaign officials said their tools were not useful, though Parscale, during a Google forum a month after the election, said the firm became involved in daily tracking polls and helped inform the campaign's decisions on where to spend its resources.

Another of the campaign officials said Cambridge was kept around mostly to placate the Mercers and their allies on Trump's staff.

All told, the Trump campaign paid Cambridge just under $6 million, according to Federal Election Commission records. The largest payment to Cambridge Analytica - $5 million on Sept. 1, 2016 - was made about two weeks after Bannon was appointed the chief executive of the Trump campaign, according to FEC records. At that same time, another Mercer ally, pollster Kellyanne Conway, was named his campaign manager to replace Manafort.

Bannon, with the Mercers' backing, served as vice president of the firm from June 2014 to August 2016, when he joined the Trump campaign. He has since had a falling-out with the Mercers and with Trump over disparaging comments he made about the president's family.

He attempted to draw a line between the campaign and Cambridge while appearing at a Financial Times panel in New York on Thursday. Bannon said he had no knowledge of the data mining operation and instead put the blame on Facebook, saying the social network cared more about profits than privacy and "takes your data for free and creates huge margins."

Chris Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica employee who became a whistleblower, told The Washington Post that Cambridge had begun testing phrases like "drain the swamp" and "deep state" well before Trump launched his campaign. The president began incorporating those concepts into his stump speech in the stretch run of the campaign, soon after Bannon came on board.

Wylie has said he fears the data was turned over to Russians who aimed to interfere with the U.S. election.

Parscale, who has been appointed Trump's 2020 campaign manager, has slammed the firm on Twitter for taking credit for Trump's victory. "So incredibly false and ridiculous," he wrote this week, declaring Cambridge's comments "an overblown sales pitch."

Lawmakers have demanded answers from both Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, as Sen. Mark Warner, the Virginia Democrat who is vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, declared this week that the blooming scandal was "more evidence that the online political advertising market is essentially the Wild West."

"Whether it's allowing Russians to purchase political ads, or extensive micro-targeting based on ill-gotten user data, it's clear that, left unregulated, this market will continue to be prone to deception and lacking in transparency," Warner tweeted.

The news of Mueller's interest in Cambridge Analytica was first reported by ABC News.

 

WASHINGTON (AP) - Charging ahead with the dramatic remaking of his White House, President Donald Trump said he would replace national security adviser H.R. McMaster with the former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, a foreign policy hawk entering an administration facing key decisions on Iran and North Korea.

After weeks of speculation about McMaster's future, Trump and the respected three-star general put a positive face on the Thursday departure, making no reference to the growing public friction between them. Trump tweeted that McMaster had done "an outstanding job & will always remain my friend." He said Bolton will take over April 9 as his third national security adviser in just over a year.

The national security shakeup comes as the president is increasingly shedding advisers who once eased the Republican establishment's concerns about the foreign policy and political novice in the White House. McMaster is the sixth close adviser or aide to announce a departure in a turbulent six weeks, joining ally Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was unceremoniously fired last week.

The White House has said the president is seeking to put new foreign policy leaders in place ahead of a not-yet-scheduled meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Bolton is likely to add a hard-line influence on those talks, as well as deliberations over whether to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.

The White House said McMaster's exit had been under discussion for some time and stressed it was not due to any one incident, including this week's stunning leak about Trump's recent phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

McMaster had briefed Trump before the Putin call - and his team drafted all-caps instructions telling Trump not to congratulate the Russian leader on his re-election victory. Trump did it anyway.

An internal investigation into the leak is underway, said a White House official who - like others interviewed about the announcement and the White House shakeup - demanded anonymity to discuss internal matters.

In a statement released by the White House, McMaster said he would be requesting retirement from the U.S. Army effective this summer, adding that afterward he "will leave public service."

McMaster had told confidants he would leave the post if at any point he lost credibility on the international stage, according to three White House officials. The feverish speculation about an impending exit sped up the decision for him to depart, the officials said, in part because McMaster believed foreign partners were beginning to doubt his influence.

Chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had been pushing Trump to get rid of McMaster and had been escalating their campaign in recent weeks. It had appeared McMaster's departure was imminent last week - but White House officials insisted the speculation was false.

"Just spoke to @POTUS and Gen. H.R. McMaster - contrary to reports they have a good working relationship and there are no changes at the NSC," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted late last Thursday night.

McMaster never developed a personal rapport with Trump, who chafed at his long-winded briefing style, according to a White House official and a person close to the president. His influence in high-level decision-making had waned in recent months, as Trump has increasingly relied on the direct counsel of Kelly and Mattis.

Yet officials said the president still has genuine respect for McMaster. He had been under consideration for a fourth star, and White House officials hoped it would provide a graceful exit from the West Wing for the longtime soldier. No suitable postings had been identified, leaving McMaster - long an iconoclast among the top brass - with no choice but retirement.

Bolton, probably the most divisive foreign policy expert ever to serve as U.N. ambassador, has been a force in Republican foreign policy circles for decades. He served in the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, and as a Bush lawyer during the 2000 Florida recount.

A strong supporter of the Iraq war and an advocate for aggressive use of American power, Bolton was unable to win Senate confirmation after his nomination to the U.N. post alienated many Democrats and even some Republicans. He resigned after serving 17 months as a Bush "recess appointment," which allowed him to hold the job on a temporary basis without Senate confirmation.

The role of national security adviser does not require Senate confirmation.

Bolton met with Trump and Kelly in early March to discuss North Korea and Iran. He was spotted entering the West Wing earlier Thursday.

Tension between Trump and McMaster had grown increasingly public. Last month, Trump took issue with McMaster's characterization of Russian meddling in the 2016 election after the national security adviser told the Munich Security Summit that interference was beyond dispute.

"General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems," Trump tweeted Feb. 17, alluding to frequent GOP allegations of impropriety by Democrats and Hillary Clinton.

Tillerson's exit also forecast trouble for McMaster, who had aligned himself with the embattled secretary of state in seeking to soften some of Trump's most dramatic foreign policy impulses.

McMaster told The New York Times last year that Trump's unorthodox approach "has moved a lot of us out of our comfort zone, me included."

The military strategist, who joined the administration in February 2017, has struggled to navigate a tumultuous White House. Last summer, he was the target of a far-right attack campaign, as conservative groups and a website tied to former Trump adviser Steve Bannon targeted him as insufficiently supportive of Israel and not tough enough on Iran.

McMaster was brought in after Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was dismissed after less than a month in office. White House officials said he was ousted because he did not tell top advisers, including Vice President Mike Pence, about the full extent of his contacts with Russian officials.

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Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

 

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Ronald Reagan once likened trade wars to the pie fights in old Hollywood comedies. One pie in the face leads to another. And then another.

Pretty soon, Reagan said in a 1986 radio address, "everything and everybody just gets messier and messier. The difference here is that it's not funny. It's tragic. Protectionism becomes destructionism. It costs jobs."

Suddenly, the world's financial markets are gripped by fear that an escalating trade rift between the United States and China - the two mightiest economies - could smear the world with a lot of splattered cream and broken crust. If it doesn't prove tragic, as Reagan warned, it may still inflict far-reaching pain.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost a combined nearly 1,150 points Thursday and Friday after President Donald Trump set his administration on a path to restrict Chinese investment in the United States and impose tariffs on up to $60 billion of Chinese products.

"We should be very worried," said Bryan Riley, director of the conservative National Taxpayer Union's Free Trade Initiative. "It's very possible this could escalate into something that neither country intends."

The trade sanctions that Trump unveiled Thursday are meant to punish Beijing for pilfering technology from American companies or for forcing them to hand over technology in exchange for access to China's market. The announcement followed a seven-month investigation by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative into the tactics China has deployed to try to overtake American technological supremacy.

"China has not been playing by the rules," said Stephen Ezell, director of global innovation policy at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation think tank.

Unbowed, China immediately threatened to retaliate if the United States followed through on its actions.

On Friday, Beijing unveiled a broad list of U.S. products - from apples and wine to pork to steel pipe - that could face retaliatory Chinese tariffs in a separate trade spat with Washington. That dispute is over taxes that Trump imposed this month on imported steel and aluminum.

"We don't want a trade war, but we are not afraid of it," said Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China's Foreign Ministry.

The stakes are even higher in the standoff over Beijing's technology policies than in the old-school dispute over metals. An industrial nation's ability to harness technology is increasingly vital to healthy economic expansion.

"If China dominates the industries of the future, it will be very difficult for the United States to have an economic future," Peter Navarro, a key White House trade adviser, told reporters.

Trade tensions are rising at a delicate time. The world economy has finally emerged from the shadow of the Great Recession. Major regions are growing in tandem for the first time in a decade. International economic growth is expected to reach a seven-year high of 3.9 percent this year. Last year, global trade expanded 4.2 percent, the most since 2011.

Some trade experts fear that a conflict over technology will erupt into an escalating war of sanctions between the world's two biggest economies - Reagan's destructive pie fight.

The U.S.-China tensions remind economists and trade analysts of the Reagan-era skirmishes between the United States and Japan, which at the time appeared to pose a grave threat to U.S. economic dominance.

"This is 'Back to the Future' - that old '80s film," said Rod Hunter, a former White House trade adviser. Indeed, Trump's top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, is a veteran of the trade battles with Tokyo, having served in the Reagan administration.

To target China, Trump and Lighthizer dusted off a Cold War weapon from the Reagan years: Section 301 of the U.S. Trade Act of 1974, which lets the president unilaterally impose tariffs. The provision was meant for a world in which much of global commerce wasn't covered by trade agreements. But with the arrival in 1995 of the World Trade Organization, Section 301 fell largely into disuse.

In some ways, a hard-nosed approach succeeded against Japan three decades ago. Under U.S. pressure, Tokyo agreed to "voluntary export restraints" to limit auto shipments to the United States. But to bypass the limits, Japanese automakers simply built plants in the American South.

Likewise, the Reagan administration in 1985 strong-armed Japan, Germany, France and Britain to raise their currencies' values to help U.S. manufacturers squeezed by a strong dollar, which makes U.S. goods costlier overseas.

But the United States wielded unusual leverage with Japan. The two countries are close political allies; Japan depends on U.S. military protection. China, by contrast, is a geopolitical rival, far less likely to bend to U.S. pressure.

It's true that China has benefited enormously from access to the American market and has much to lose: Last year, it exported $375 billion more in goods to the United States than it bought in return - a record trade gap that irritates Trump.

But a full-blown trade war would test Trump's fortitude for commercial combat and would certainly hurt many Americans, including some of Trump's supporters. Most directly, U.S. tariffs would raise costs for consumers and businesses.

Trade groups are already lobbying the Trump administration to seek diplomatic solutions to the disputes. China's all-powerful leaders face no such public pressure.

"We live in a society where stakeholders in Congress are going to put a lot of pressure on the administration," said Wendy Cutler, a former U.S. trade official who is vice president at the Asia Society Policy Institute. "In China, they don't."

Still, the 301 sanctions might be enough to prod the Chinese to return to the negotiating table to consider softening their aggressive technology policies.

"If this gets the two countries back to the table to talk about this, then that is a good outcome," said Erin Ennis, senior vice president at the US-China Business Council. "If the idea is to inflict sufficient pain so that China feels it has no choice but to change its policies, then I'm skeptical."

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