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Senators grill Facebook on its plans for Libra cryptocurrency

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Senate to grill Facebook over plans for Libra cryptocurrency

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Facebook Inc is “delusional” to believe people will trust it with their money, a U.S. senator said on Tuesday as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle questioned the social media company on its plans for a digital currency at a hearing on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Small toy figures are seen on representations of virtual currency in front of the Libra logo in this illustration picture, June 21, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Facebook is fighting to get Washington onside after it shocked regulators and lawmakers with its announcement on June 18 that it was hoping to launch a new digital coin called Libra in 2020.

Since then it has faced criticism from policymakers and financial watchdogs at home and abroad who fear widespread adoption of the digital currency by the social media giant’s 2.38 billion users could upend the financial system.

“Facebook has demonstrated through scandal after scandal that it doesn’t deserve our trust,” Democratic senator Sherrod Brown, the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, said in his opening remarks. “We’d be crazy to give them a chance to let them experiment with people’s bank accounts.”

Brown added during questioning that he thought it was “delusional” to think individuals would trust the social media company with their “hard-earned” money.

The Senate Banking Committee is questioning David Marcus, the company’s top executive overseeing the project, on issues ranging from how Libra could affect global monetary policy to how customer data will be handled.

Marcus, who was president of PayPal from 2012 to 2014, tried to assuage concerns in his opening remarks by promising that Facebook will not begin offering Libra until regulatory issues are addressed.

“We know we need to take the time to get this right,” Marcus, who is also due to testify before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, said. Marcus received a frosty welcome from Democratic lawmakers who already believe the company is too large and careless with consumer data.

Concerns raised through questions included how the company plans to prevent money laundering through the new payment system, how consumers’ data and funds will be protected and how the Geneva-based association created to run the system will be regulated. Republicans shared some of these worries, but appeared less hostile, even after U.S. President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin voiced concerns over the past few days.

“They’re going to have to convince us of very high standards before they have access to the U.S. financial system,” Mnuchin said on Monday.

UNDER WRAPS

Critics have expressed anger that the company would have got so far in its plans for such a potentially groundbreaking project without extensive input from policymakers, especially when it is already in the spotlight over privacy issues.

Facebook allocated a small fraction of its vast workforce to work on the project, Kevin Weil, who runs product for the Libra initiative, told Reuters on June 18.

One former employee told Reuters the company tried to keep the project under wraps even internally – staff who were not involved knew little about it, not even that it was operating under the name Libra.

Rumors had surfaced as early as last year that Facebook was working on a digital currency, but news that the project was in its advanced stages started to emerge only in recent months.

In the weeks leading up to the announcement, the company began reaching out formally to key regulators including the Federal Reserve, the Treasury and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. But two people with knowledge of the discussions said the conversations remained vague, with key details of the project discussed only on a theoretical level.

Some lawmakers specializing in financial services policy have been frustrated by the lack of clarity from Facebook before and since June 18, three congressional sources said.

For example, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee sent Facebook a letter on May 9 seeking information, including how the company would protect consumers’ financial information. But Facebook did not write back until July 8, the committee said.

One Democratic aide described the company’s contacts with lawmakers as “inept and entitled.”

In its defense, Facebook has said that it announced the project in its early stages to get feedback from stakeholders. Marcus reiterated this at the hearing on Tuesday.

Writing by Anna Irrera; editing by Michelle Price, Sonya Hepinstall and Susan Thomas

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Trump rips New York Times over Kavanaugh piece, calls for resignation of anyone involved in ‘SMEAR story’

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Trump rips New York Times over Kavanaugh piece, calls for resignation of anyone involved in 'SMEAR story'

President Trump blasted The New York Times over its supposed bombshell report on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, calling on “everybody” involved in the “smear” to resign.

“I call for the Resignation of everybody at The New York Times involved in the Kavanaugh SMEAR story, and while you’re at it, the Russian Witch Hunt Hoax, which is just as phony!” Trump tweeted Monday evening.

“They’ve taken the Old Grey Lady and broken her down, destroyed her virtue and ruined her reputation… She can never recover, and will never return to Greatness, under current Management. The Times is DEAD, long live The New York Times!”

NEW YORK TIMES CRITICIZED FROM BOTH SIDES OVER NOW-REVISED KAVANAUGH ALLEGATIONS

Late Sunday, The New York Times walked back an explosive report about a resurfaced allegation of sexual assault by Kavanaugh from his college days. The piece by Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, adapted from their forthcoming book, alleged there was corroboration of an incident in which Kavanaugh, as a college student at Yale, exposed himself to a female classmate at a party.

However, The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway — who reviewed an advance copy of the book – flagged an omission and the paper eventually revised the controversial story after being lampooned on social media over the gaffe.

The update included the significant detail that several friends of the alleged victim said she did not recall the purported sexual assault. The newspaper also stated for the first time that the alleged victim refused to be interviewed, and has made no other comment about the episode.

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Trump was asked about whether anyone from The Times should be “fired” over the controversy. He called it a “fair” question but didn’t directly give an answer.

“I think The New York Times made another terrible mistake,” Trump said. “It’s a shame that a thing like that could happen… They used to have a thing called fact-checking. They don’t have fact-checking anymore.”

Fox News’ Brian Flood and Gregg Re contributed to this report.

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With New Mexico rally, Trump seeks to flip state won by Clinton in 2016

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With New Mexico rally, Trump seeks to flip state won by Clinton in 2016

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump will hold one of his signature rallies on Monday night in New Mexico, a longtime Democratic stronghold his campaign has added to the list of states it hopes to win in the November 2020 election.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S., September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

The last time New Mexico supported a Republican in a presidential race was 2004. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton beat Trump there by 8 percentage points three years ago.

Trump’s campaign sees an opening in the state with Latinos, who it believes will swing his way despite tough immigration policies, including a crackdown on migrants from Central America and a push to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Democrats have criticized those efforts. But a Trump campaign aide said the Republican president could win over Latinos who came to the United States legally and believe others should, too.

“Big crowd expected in New Mexico tonight, where we will WIN. Your Border Wall is getting stronger each and every day — see you in a few hours!” Trump tweeted ahead of his trip.

The campaign also views Trump’s support for the fossil fuel industry as a plus in the state, which is rich in oil and natural gas, said the campaign aide, who declined to be named. Trump is likely to discuss energy on Monday night.

Trump won the White House in 2016 with electoral votes from traditional Republican-leaning states and some surprise Democratic-leaning ones.

The Trump campaign says it wants New Mexico’s five electoral votes to augment the 306 electoral votes the president received in his first election, not create a separate path for victory. A candidate must get 270 electoral votes nationally to win.

Democrats, who did well in New Mexico during the 2018 mid-term elections, are skeptical.

“Last cycle, Democrats crushed Republicans in New Mexico because voters are fed up with President Trump’s toxic healthcare agenda and broken promises,” said David Bergstein, a communications director for the Democratic National Committee focused on battleground states.

“We take nothing for granted, but this GOP strategy looks like they’re concerned about a realistic pathway to 270 electoral votes,” he added.

Trump won electoral-vote-rich swing states such as Ohio and Florida in 2016, while also picking up Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania from Democrats.

The campaign says it is eyeing more pickups in 2020, including Colorado, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Nevada.

Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Tom Brown

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California adds Iowa to ‘travel ban’ over refusal to fund gender transitions

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California adds Iowa to 'travel ban' over refusal to fund gender transitions

California announced Monday that it has added Iowa to the list of states on its ever-expanding “travel ban” list because of that state’s new prohibition against funding gender-transition surgeries under Medicaid.

The announcement by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra means that as of Oct. 4, California will no longer offer taxpayer-funded trips to Iowa for any public employee or student at a state-run university.

Becerra’s authority came from a 2016 California law signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown that bars state-funded travel to other states that undercut LGBT rights. The list already included Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

WATCH: LIBERAL POLICIES BLAMED FOR WORSENING CALIFORNIA’S HOMELESSNESS CRISIS

Conservatives have called the law ineffective, inconveniencing, possibly unconstitutional and hypocritical. The state’s sports teams have turned to private funding to get around the restrictions, according to The Los Angeles Times.

A homeless woman smokes as she waits for city crews to clean the area near Los Angeles City Hall Monday, July 1, 2019. California is overrun with homeless individuals. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

A homeless woman smokes as she waits for city crews to clean the area near Los Angeles City Hall Monday, July 1, 2019. California is overrun with homeless individuals. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

“The Iowa Legislature has reversed course on what was settled law under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, repealing protections for those seeking gender-affirming health care,” Becerra said in a statement. “California has taken an unambiguous stand against discrimination and government actions that would enable it.”

The brouhaha began after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in March that taxpayers could be forced to pay for gender reassignment surgery. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law effectively overriding that ruling two months later.

At the federal level, the Trump administration has disputed the idea that sex-based discrimination prohibitions under law include protections for gender identity. The Health and Human Services Department, in May, angered progressive advocates with rules that both allowed doctors not to perform certain operations and stated that “gender identity” was not protected under sex discrimination law in health care.

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Fox News’ Sam Dorman contributed to this report.

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