Turkey Boosts Tariffs Amid US Feud

Turkey on Wednesday announced tariff hikes on a range of U.S. goods in the latest back-and-forth move amid a deteriorating relationship between the two countries.

The extra tariffs apply to imports of vehicles, alcohol, coal, rice and cosmetics.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Twitter the increases were being done “within the framework of the principle of reciprocity in retaliation for the conscious economic attacks by the United States.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is accusing the United States of waging a targeted economic war on his country, and on Tuesday he proposed a boycott of U.S. electronic goods.

“If they have the iPhone, there is Samsung elsewhere. In our own country we have Vestel,” said Erdogan.

Asked how U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration would react to any such Turkish boycott, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders replied during Tuesday afternoon’s briefing, “I certainly don’t have a policy announcement on that at this point.” 

Trump administration sources say further sanctions against Turkey are under active consideration. But Sanders declined to say how the U.S. government plans to apply more pressure on Ankara, which repeatedly has ignored calls from Trump and others to free Christian pastor Andrew Brunson. 

Turkey accuses Brunson of espionage and is holding him under house arrest pending his trial. 

The chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Turkey, Jeffrey Hovenier, visited Brunson on Tuesday and called for his case — and those of others detained in Turkey — to be resolved “without delay” and in a “fair and transparent manner.”

National Security Adviser John Bolton met at the White House on Monday with Turkish ambassador Serdar Kilic, but the discussion reportedly did not result in any substantive progress.

Trump, who has called Brunson’s detention a “total disgrace,” last Friday doubled tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum exports in order to increase pressure on Erdogan. 

Earlier this month, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Turkey’s ministers of Justice and Interior in response to the continued detention of the pastor, who has lived in the country for 20 years and heads an evangelical congregation of about two dozen people in the port city of Izmir. 

The escalating dispute between the two countries has exacerbated Turkey’s economic crisis, pushing the lira to record lows. The Turkish currency has lost about 40 percent of its value this year against the U.S. dollar.

Erdogan has called on Turks to exchange their dollars for lira in order to shore up the domestic currency.

In a joint statement Tuesday, Turkish business groups called on the government to institute tighter monetary policy in order to combat the currency crisis. They also said Turkey should work to resolve the situation with the United States diplomatically while also improving relations with another major trading partner, the European Union.

The Turkish central bank has pledged to take “all necessary measures” to stabilize the country’s economy to make sure the banks have all the money they need. But world stock traders were dismayed the bank did not raise interest rates, which is what many economists believe is necessary to ease the crisis.

The United States and Turkey also have diverging interests over Syria, which is enmeshed in a protracted civil war. 

The differences are drawing Turkey closer to Russia, they key adversary of NATO but a country supplying more than half of Turkey’s gas.

Turkey has agreed to buy S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia, an unprecedented move by a NATO member, which has raised objections from members of both parties of the U.S. Congress and the Trump administration. 

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, voiced support for Turkey during a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart in Ankara on Tuesday, stating both countries plan to switch from dollars to national currencies for their mutual trade.

“We view the policy of sanctions as unlawful and illegitimate, driven mostly by a desire to dominate everywhere and in everything, dictate policies and call shots in international affairs,” said Lavrov, predicting “such a policy can’t be a basis for normal dialogue and can’t last long.

Lavrov, alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, also declared, “We are at a turning point, without exaggeration, in world history” from dominance by a single power toward a multipolar environment. 

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Manafort Trial Heads to Closing Arguments

Closing arguments are set to take place Wednesday in the tax and bank fraud trial of U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The prosecution and defense will each sum up their side of the case in front of the jury before the 12-person panel begins deliberations on Manafort’s guilt or innocence.

Manafort’s lawyers rested their case Tuesday without calling any witnesses or having him testify.

If convicted, he faces a lengthy prison sentence. He also is set to stand trial on related charges next month. 

Prosecutors for special counsel Robert Mueller presented two weeks of testimony against Manafort, accusing him of hiding millions of dollars in offshore accounts he earned while lobbying for deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in the years before Manafort headed Trump’s presidential campaign for several months in mid-2016.

The case, heard in an Alexandria, Virginia, courtroom just outside Washington, has drawn particular interest in the United States because it is the first trial conducted by Mueller’s prosecutors in their wide-ranging investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

They are probing whether Trump associates conspired with Russia to help him win the White House and whether Trump, as president, obstructed justice by trying to thwart the investigation.

The case against Manafort, a long-time Washington lobbyist, only peripherally touched on the campaign. Instead, it dealt almost totally on accusations that he hid millions of dollars overseas and used the funds to finance a lavish lifestyle in the United States, with millions spent on palatial homes and landscaping, new suits and jackets, electronics and other high-priced items.

The prosecutors alleged Manafort’s vast sums from Ukraine dried up after Yanukovych was ousted in a popular 2014 uprising before he fled to Russia. Then, the government alleged, Manafort committed bank fraud by falsifying the amount of his assets on loan applications to finance the lifestyle he had become accustomed to with the millions he was receiving from Yanukovych.

The key witness against Manafort was Rick Gates, his longtime deputy in his lobbying operations and also Trump’s deputy campaign manager.

Gates had already pleaded guilty before Manafort’s trial to helping him hide millions in income from U.S. tax authorities. He is awaiting sentencing. Along with hours of testimony about Manafort’s finances, Gates acknowledged that he stole millions from Manafort, in part to finance an extra-marital affair in London.

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Jurors: 300-plus Priests Abused Scores of Kids in Pennsylvania

More than 300 Catholic priests sexually abused at least 1,000 children over the last 70 years and church leaders did all they could to cover it up, a Pennsylvania grand jury report released Tuesday said.

The report said the number of victims might actually be in the thousands because church records have been lost and some victims were too scared to report the crimes.

“Church officials routinely and purposefully described the abuse as horseplay and wrestling and inappropriate conduct,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “It was none of those things. It was child sex abuse, including rape.”

The grand jury report said both boys and girls in six dioceses in Pennsylvania were victims. One priest was accused of raping a girl in her hospital bed just after she had her tonsils taken out.

One boy said he was given juice, only to wake up the next day, bleeding from his behind, without any recollection of what had happened to him. Some priests were accused of sharing child pornography and photographs of naked boys.

The report said various bishops and other church leaders knew about the crimes but did not report them to police because they were afraid of bad publicity and lawsuits.

Abusive priests instead were sent to what the church calls treatment centers, and many returned to their ministries, where they continued to serve for decades.

Of the more than 300 priests named in the report, only two have been criminally charged. The rest are either dead or cannot be charged because the statute of limitations has run out.

“We are sick over all the crimes that will go unpunished and uncompensated,” the report said.

The Vatican has not yet commented on the report, but the Diocese of Pittsburgh asked Tuesday for forgiveness. 

Former Pittsburgh Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who is now archbishop of Washington, D.C., denied the grand jury allegations that he protected abusive priests. He said he acted with “diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse.”

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White House, Omarosa, and Security Worries Over Secret Tapes

The scandal is continuing between President Donald Trump and former aide and reality-show star Omarosa Manigault Newman who is going public with recordings of conversations she had with the president and his chief of staff. Manigault Newman says she secretly recorded the audio, raising questions about possible security breaches at the White House. VOA White House correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has the latest.

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Reports of Election Site Hacking Rankle Florida Officials

Child’s play or a signs of a serious security problem in one of the nation’s swing states?

That’s the question confronting Florida election officials who are pushing back against reports that an 11-year-old hacked a replica of the state’s election website.

Multiple media outlets over the weekend reported that children at a hacking conference in Las Vegas were able to easily hack into a version of the website that reports election results to the public. An 11-year-old boy got into Florida’s site within 10 minutes, while an 11-year-old girl did it in 15 minutes, according to the organizers of the event called DEFCON Voting Machine Hacking Village.

State officials contend there’s no way that the replica used by hackers is an actual representation of the state’s website. 

“This was a mock site with likely very few, if any, security measures in place,” said Sarah Revell, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “It is not a real-life scenario and it offers a wholly inaccurate representation of the security of Florida’s elections websites, online databases and voting systems that does not take into account the state-of-the-art security measures the Florida Department of State has in place to prevent any possible hacking attempts from being successful.”

Florida’s election website that displays results is not connected to the actual local election systems responsible for tabulating votes. Instead, on election night supervisors upload unofficial results to state officials through a completely different network.

Still if someone was able to manipulate the website it could create confusion and sow doubts about the actual results once they were announced. Investigators in May found evidence of a cyberattack on a Tennessee county’s elections website from a computer in Ukraine, which likely caused the site to crash just as it was reporting vote totals during a primary.

Nico Sell, one of the organizers of the event, told PBS Newshour on Sunday that the replicas used at the conference were accurate representations.

“The site may be a replica but the vulnerabilities that these kids were exploiting were not replicas, they’re the real thing,” the television network quoted her. “I think the general public does not understand how large a threat this is, and how serious a situation that we’re in right now with our democracy.”

Mark Earley, the elections supervisor in Leon County who is a cybersecurity liaison between state and local officials, questioned how outsiders could obtain the security protocols used by Florida if they weren’t already behind the system’s firewalls. He said that all this “hacking noise” and “misinformation plays into the hands of the folks who are trying to undermine democracy.”

Jeff Kosseff, a lawyer and assistant professor at the United States Naval Academy Cyber Studies Department, said states are struggling with election security threats. He said they should work with outsiders in order to see if there are flaws in their systems.

“All states should look at this as a wake-up call,” Kosseff said. “What were the shortcomings identified and how they can fix it.  I don’t think it should be an adversarial.”

The reports of hacking into Florida’s website that reports election results coincide with a dust-up between U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Gov. Rick Scott over possible Russian meddling in other parts of the state’s election system.

Nelson last week said Russians were able to get inside the election systems of “certain counties” and “now have free rein to move about.” He added that “the threat is real and elections officials — at all levels — need to address the vulnerabilities.”

The senator has not provided any more details, saying that additional information is classified. Scott has demanded that Nelson provide proof of his claims. Last Friday two Republicans who are on the Senate intelligence community declined to confirm or deny Nelson’s statements.

Russian hackers targeted at least 21 states, including Florida, ahead of the 2016 election and breached the voter registration system in at least one, Illinois, investigators say. An indictment released last month said Russian operatives sent over 100 fake emails to elections offices and personnel in Florida as part of the hacking effort. State officials have never acknowledged how many counties were targeted by the Russians.

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Analysts: Trade Wars Not Good for Anyone

Tariffs imposed on goods imported from China, Europe and other parts of the world could hurt American consumers and small businesses more than help them. Analysts point out that in today’s global economy, most manufacturers produce parts and import others to make a final product. Tariffs imposed on Chinese electronic parts have already forced a U.S. TV factory to close down, and there are concerns that U.S. farmers could lose big markets overseas. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has more.

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Trump’s Harley Boycott Call Roils Wisconsin Primary

President Donald Trump’s call for a boycott of Harley-Davidson motorcycles forced Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans to either criticize the president or stick with the Milwaukee-based company just ahead of Tuesday’s primary where Trump allegiance has been a central focus.

Trump on Sunday tweeted it was “great” that “many” Harley owners planned to boycott the company if manufacturing moves overseas, continuing a steel tariff dispute he’s had since June with the company.

Walker, Wisconsin’s most prominent Harley owner who faces a tough re-election bid in November, issued a statement that did not directly address the boycott call.

“I want Harley Davidson to prosper here in the state of Wisconsin,” Walker said. “And one of the best ways for that to happen is to do what the president has called for and that is to get to no tariffs.”

Trump’s attacks on Harley have put Walker in a tough spot politically as he runs for a third term in November. Eight Democrats were running in Tuesday’s primary for a chance to take on Walker who is seeking a third term.

“By attacking Wisconsin workers to cover for failed economic policy President Trump took a page right out of Scott Walker’s playbook,” said Mahlon Mitchell, one of the eight candidates and the head of the state firefighters union. He has more backing from labor unions than any other candidate.

Another Democratic candidate, Kelda Roys, accused Walker of “cowering before Trump” and the president’s “attempts to destroy an iconic Wisconsin business.”

Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who is also up for re-election in November, was more forceful than Walker in her reaction to the Trump tweet.

“You can’t run our economy with tweets,” Baldwin tweeted to Trump. “Wisconsin businesses like @harleydavidson need better trade deals, not tweets and trade wars.”

Former U.S. Marine Kevin Nicholson and state Sen. Leah Vukmir were running in the Republican primary for chance to take on Baldwin. Both were running as strong Trump supporters, but the president has not endorsed in the race.

Nicholson said on WTMJ radio Monday he was against a Harley-Davidson boycott but also supported Trump’s approach to trade. He also pushed back against Baldwin on Twitter.

“We do need better trade deals, not the ones engineered by you and other members of the political class,” Nicholson tweeted at Baldwin. “We must bring trade partners back to the table and do away with tariffs. You don’t fight for WI and you don’t understand our economy.”

Vukmir, who won the endorsement of the Wisconsin Republican Party, was making a final campaign swing in southeast Wisconsin, including a stop with retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan. She did not address Trump’s boycott call in a statement calling Harley “a point of pride not only for our state, but also our nation.”

“I trust they will not abandon their Wisconsin roots, and the best way for that to happen is to get rid of tariffs like the president is working to do,” Vukmir said.

In July, Harley-Davidson said it expects new tariffs to cost the company as much as $100 million annually.

A spokesman for Harley-Davidson declined to comment both Sunday and Monday.

Polls have shown the Senate race to be a dead heat. State Superintendent Tony Evers had a double-digit lead in the Democratic gubernatorial primary based on polls in the months leading up to the election.

But others in the race who had raised enough to advertise on television — including Mitchell and Roys — were hoping for a late swing in their favor, particularly among younger voters.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary will enter the final three months of the race at a financial disadvantage to Walker. He had $4.8 million cash on hand in August, while the top tier Democrats were likely to be tapped out after spending on the primary.

The Wisconsin Democratic Party and the Democratic Governors Association have been raising money and building infrastructure in preparation for Wednesday, to help the winner of the primary get a fast start against Walker.

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Turks Fear for Future as Currency Rout Continues

The Turkish lira has fallen more than 40 percent since the start of the year, 20 percent just last week, amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Turkey, and international investors’ concerns over the economy.  For Turkey, the dramatic collapse of the currency signal fears for the future, as Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

Fruit and vegetable sellers, along with fishmongers, try to drum up business in Istanbul’s old Kadikoy market.  But trade is slow. Most people just look and walk on.

Organic shopkeeper Meltem worries for the future.

She says she is pessimistic about the future because prices will rise and the ability of people to purchase will decrease. She adds that as money in their pockets decreases, people in hardship will buy much less than before.

The fear of plummeting currency values, which continued on markets Monday, will stoke Turkey’s already double-digit inflation, which appears to be the top concern among shoppers.  Turkey relies heavily on imports, especially for energy.

Thirty-year-old Tariq, a teacher doing his weekly shopping, says he is cutting back on spending as he prepares for difficult times ahead.

He says the lira has fallen heavily and predicts unbelievable inflation because Turkey imports so much.  He says everybody in Turkey is afraid the coming inflation, especially for heating bills, will make this winter hard.

Across the street, fishmonger Huseyin proudly displays what he claims is the finest turbot in Istanbul and tries to be more positive. He acknowledges there will be problems. 

He says he does not have much to do with dollars, because if more fish are caught, they are cheaper, if less they are more expensive. But he says buyers may be affected if they are having economic difficulties.  He says if there is a good quantity of fish, then he will keep selling.

Shopkeeper Meltem warns of economic uncertainty ahead.

She says the future does not look good, because when people are hungry, they will be tempted to steal and may choose illegal means to survive.  She said things will not be any good. Many stores are closing because there is no trade anymore.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday an international conspiracy is responsible for undermining the currency, but says the financial fundamentals of the economy remain strong, and order will soon return to the markets.  

Such claims have been met with skepticism by international investors, while many economists warn the damage may have already been done to the economy, and difficult times lie ahead. 

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