Mark Sorryberg 1, Congress 0 – for now

Many of us could probably lay claim to a split personality, but few people are as blatant about it as Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook doesn’t have one CEO – it has two.

There’s Mark Zuckerberg, the Ultimate Millennial. He wears t-shirt and jeans, is a Harvard dropout, happiest in New York and San Francisco, who talks a good game about connecting the world. He’s an engineer and geek who built perhaps the most remarkable network in human history, innovating his way to astronomical wealth. This guy is shy, but has a public persona that accommodates it.

Then there’s a chap I call Mark Sorryberg – the Big Tech Villain. He wears an ill-fitting suit, squirms when in Washington, is blamed for damaging all we hold dear – from rigging elections (“He’s killing democracy”!) to promoting extremism (“He’s unweaving society”!) and not paying enough tax (“He’s screwing the poor”!). This guy is so shy he comes across as awkward and uncomfortable when he should be projecting authority.

As the excellent Zeynep Tufekci wrote in an entertaining blast for Wired, we’ve seen a lot of this second character since the company was founded. In fact, over the past fourteen years, “sorry” seems to have been the easiest word for Facebook’s leader.

In 2006, after the launch of News Feed annoyed users, Sorryberg wrote in a blog: “This was a big mistake on our part, and I’m sorry for it.” In 2007, failures in the Beacon advertising system prompted another grovelling blog: “We simply did a bad job… and I apologise for it.” As Tufekci notes, by 2008, all of his blogs for Facebook were in effect apologies, and we saw several other examples even before he said about the Cambridge Analytica leak to CNN: “I’m really sorry this happened”.

So Mark Sorryberg is a familiar figure by now. He was on display in Washington this week, following the biggest crisis in the history of his company. There were several open goals in front of his interrogators, and opportunities to make him squirm and wriggle were not in short supply.

Yet, for the most part, they missed. After nearly 10 hours of grilling, Facebook is – for now – a richer company, Zuckerberg’s authority as CEO is re-asserted, and the potential disaster this week might have been was averted. These are all very short-term interpretations. There could be big trouble ahead. But the lawmakers fluffed it.

Ineffective questioning

The format didn’t help. For non-partisan reasons that are laudable in principle but ludicrous in practice, each lawmaker was given a maximum of 5 minutes on Tuesday and 4 minutes on Wednesday. You simply cannot build pressure, interrogate answers, or pursue a line of inquiry in the way necessary over such a short time.

But the representatives didn’t help themselves. In his allotted time, Senator Roy Blunt first told a boring story about his business cards, then gave a shout out to his 13 year-old son Charlie who is “dedicated to Instagram… [and] he’d want to be sure that I mentioned that while I was here”, which was sweet.

I’ve transcribed what followed.

Blunt: “Do you collect user data through cross-device tracking.”

Sorryberg: “Er, Senator, I believe we do link people’s accounts between devices in order to make sure that their Facebook and Instagram and their other experiences can be synced between devices.

Blunt: “And that would also include off-line data? Data that is tracking, that is not necessarily linked to Facebook but linked to one… some device they went through Facebook on?”

Sorryberg: “Senator, I want to make sure we get this right. So I want to have my team follow up with you on that afterwards.

Blunt: “That doesn’t seem that complicated to me. You understand this better than I do. But maybe you can explain to me why that’s complicated. Do you track devices that an individual who uses Facebook…has… that is connected to the device they use for their Facebook connection but not necessarily connected to Facebook?”

Sorryberg: “I’m not, I’m not sure [of] the answer to that question.”

Blunt: “Really.”

Sorryberg: “Yes”.

A work of literature that penultimate question was not. I don’t understand it, Zuckerberg didn’t understand it – and Blunt definitely didn’t understand it. He seemed poorly briefed, despite the gravity of the occasion.

Unfortunately, it was emblematic of the meandering, ineffective mode that dominated Tuesday. Wednesday’s interrogation was better, but still not as good as it should have been, not least because there were many questions that weren’t asked. The Facebook CEO’s weaknesses weren’t really exploited.

For instance, he should have been pushed harder on how hard it is to retrieve data that has fallen into the wrong hands. He should have been pushed harder about Facebook’s reaction to news that The Observer newspaper was publishing a story on the subject. His claims that something awry may have been going on at Cambridge University – vigorously denied by the institution – deserved more of a probing.

And the long history of errors at the company, plus its initial denial that there had been a data “breach” when it came to Cambridge Analytica, were worthy of a mauling that was never heard.

First do no harm

Given the scale of the recent controversy, and the courtroom theatrics of these cross-examinations, there was much to fear for Facebook this week. It was Zuckerberg’s first time getting grilled by the Senate and Congress, and his awkwardness in such public arenas was clear for all to see.

His facial expressions garnered comment on social media – but it was his body language and garb, over which he exercises more control, that struck me. On Tuesday, Zuckerberg’s tie knot was chunky and loose; and his halting responses and nervous smiles didn’t project much authority.

But he maintained his composure and politeness throughout. Investors gave a clear enough verdict: the two days added $26bn, or 6 per cent, to the company’s value.

There is some gridlock in Congress, and America’s politicians have a range of very big problems on their plate. That means that for the time being, the regulatory threat to Facebook – though of course they would say they welcome the chance to work with regulators – comes from Brussels and GDPR, rather than Washington.

In terms of new law or regulation, the question is: what kind? One of the great intellectual challenges in this field is in devising regulations that can keep pace with technological innovation: a very hard task. It is wrong to think, for instance, that you can just import the kind of regulation that Ofcom do for broadcasters, and apply it to video content on social media platforms.

The interrogation to come

While this week has not been the disaster for Facebook that many anticipated, and some wanted, the medium-term threats certainly haven’t gone away. And events of recent months have fundamentally changed the level of scrutiny the company is getting, while making perhaps hundreds of millions of users aware of the trade-off between their free use of Facebook and the digital footprint they leave behind.

As my esteemed colleague Dave Lee has noted, there are plenty of deferred questions that the CEO and his team will need to address. And the demands of British regulators that he gives evidence here, too, won’t quieten any time soon.

In particular, perhaps Congress members who realise this week was a missed opportunity will invite their guest back to clarify several of the points he made. If they are smart, they should see this as the beginning of a process, rather than the end.

But in adopting his apologetic posture with an efficacy his interrogators sadly lacked, Mark Sorryberg got one over America’s lawmakers when they should have scored an easy win. If he came to Britain, he wouldn’t get such an easy ride – which is the main reason he probably won’t.

Trump threatens further $100bn in tariffs against China

US President Donald Trump has instructed officials to consider a further $100bn (£71.3bn) of tariffs against China, in an escalation of a tense trade stand-off.

These would be in addition to the $50bn worth of US tariffs already proposed on hundreds of Chinese imports.

China’s Ministry of Commerce responded, saying China would “not hesitate to pay any price” to defend its interests.

Tit-for-tat trade moves have unsettled global markets in recent weeks.

The latest US proposal came after China threatened tariffs on 106 key US products.

In response to Mr Trump’s latest announcement, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said: “China and the US as two world powers should treat each other on a basis of equality and with respect.

“By waving a big stick of trade sanctions against China, the US has picked a wrong target.”

Ministry of Commerce Spokesman Gao Feng said: “We do not want to fight, but we are not afraid to fight a trade war.”

He said that if the US side ignores opposition from China and the international community and insists on “unilateralist and protectionist acts,” then China will “not hesitate to pay any price, and will definitely strike back resolutely… [to] defend the interests of the country and its people.”

Analysts have warned of the risk of a full-blown trade war for the global economy and the markets, and believe ongoing behind-the-scenes negotiations between the two giants are crucial.

Market reaction in Asia on Friday suggested investors were relatively untroubled by the latest twist in the trade row. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose more than 1% while Japan’s Nikkei index edged lower.

How has this unfolded?

Earlier this year, the US announced it would impose import taxes of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium. The tariffs were to be wide-ranging and would include China.

China responded last month with retaliatory tariffs worth $3bn of its own against the US on a range of goods, including pork and wine. Beijing said the move was intended to safeguard its interests and balance losses caused by the new tariffs.

Then the US announced it was imposing some $50bn worth of tariffs on Chinese-made goods, blaming what it described as unfair Chinese intellectual property practices, such as those that pressured US companies to share technology with Chinese firms.

Mr Trump argues that because Beijing forces any US firms setting up shop in China to tie up with a Chinese company, US ideas are left open to theft and abuse.

Mr Trump reiterated in his statement on Thursday that China’s “illicit trade practices” had been ignored by Washington for years and had destroyed “thousands of American factories and millions of American jobs”.

The draft details of the $50bn to $60bn worth of tariffs were released last week when Washington set out about 1,300 Chinese products it intended to hit with tariffs set at 25%.

China responded this week by proposing retaliatory tariffs, also worth some $50bn, on 106 key US products, including soybeans, aircraft parts and orange juice. This set of tariffs was narrowly aimed at politically important sectors in the US, such as agriculture.

In Mr Trump’s Thursday statement he branded that retaliation by Beijing as “unfair”.

“Rather than remedy its misconduct, China has chosen to harm our farmers and manufacturers,” he said.

“In light of China’s unfair retaliation, I have instructed the USTR (United States Trade Representative) to consider whether $100bn of additional tariffs would be appropriate… and, if so, to identify the products upon which to impose such tariffs.”

He said he had also instructed agricultural officials to implement a plan to protect US farmers and agricultural interests.

What could the impact be?

On the political front, Mr Trump’s latest announcement has elicited a less-than-friendly reception from some fellow Republicans.

They have warned that the tariffs will hurt Americans and cost jobs. They have also said relationships the US has with its other big trading partners could be hurt.

US retail giants including Walmart and Target have also asked Mr Trump to consider carefully the impact the tariffs would have on consumer prices and American families.

On Thursday, Ben Sasse, a Republican Senator from the farming area of Nebraska, said Mr Trump’s latest plan was “nuts” and that he hoped the president was “just blowing off steam”.

“Let’s absolutely take on Chinese bad behaviour, but with a plan that punishes them instead of us,” he said.

“This is the dumbest possible way to do this.”

Mr Sasse’s comments echo sentiment pouring out of various Republican-voting farming belts in the US. America’s soybean farmers are expected to be particularly hurt by Mr Trump’s tariff tactics.

To get a sense of how things might play out for those farmers, the trade tit-for-tat could hit soybean producers in the US – and possibly around the world.

China, which is a big producer of soybeans itself, buys about 60% of all soybeans exported by the US.

It uses the product to feed farmed animals, including pigs and chickens, as well as fish. Those animals are in turn used to help feed China’s enormous population.

China’s demand for soybeans and soybean products has buoyed the price of US soybeans for some time.

  • Five reasons why trade wars aren’t easy to win
  • Not a trade ‘war’ but a trade ‘dance’
  • Why China won’t baulk at US tariff threat

    But Beijing’s tariffs against US soybeans will mostly likely see sales to China fall off, which will in turn hurt American farmers.

    Meanwhile, China will need to set about sourcing the extra soybeans it needs from other countries.

    India is one of the world’s biggest soybean producers, and analysts there have already pointed to a potential trade war between the US and China as an opportunity for its economy.

    Other big soybean producers are Argentina and Brazil, and some studies suggest that is where China will turn to should the current set of proposed tariffs come into force.

    But it could end up paying more than it currently does, ultimately forcing up the price of those animals which eat soybean products. So that would mean pork, for example, China’s most popular meat, could get more expensive. And food price inflation is something that will worry Beijing.

    Beijing Deals

    What China sells to the US

    $462.6bn

    The value of of goods bought by the US from China in 2016.

    • 18.2% of all China's exports go to the United States

    • $129bn worth of China-made electrical machinery bought by US

    • 59.2% growth in Chinese services imported by US between 2006 & 2016

    • $347bn US goods trade deficit with China

      CIA Factbook; USTR. All data for 2016. Getty Images

      How long could this last?

      China has initiated a complaint with the World Trade Organization over the US tariffs, in what analysts say is a sign that this will be a protracted process.

      The WTO circulated the request for consultation to members on Thursday, launching a discussion period before the complaint heads to formal dispute settlement process.

      Meanwhile, under US law, the proposed set of tariffs against about 1,300 Chinese products must now go under review, including a public notice and comment process, and a hearing.

      The hearing is scheduled at the moment for 15 May, with post-hearing filings due a week later.

      So, it could be some months before the USTR will announce its final findings or any decision on whether or not it will move ahead with the proposed tariffs.

Not a trade ‘war’ but a trade ‘dance’

President Trump has tweeted the US is “not in a trade war with China”.

The Chinese say they don’t want a trade war either.

But both sides don’t appear to be backing down from their list of demands.

So if it’s not a trade war – is this a trade dance?

Negotiating tactics

What I mean by that of course, is that these are negotiating tactics.

It’s what happens in any business negotiation – each side is trying to get the other to do what it wants. And while the public declarations of potential tariffs may be quite dramatic, behind the scenes US and Chinese officials are still talking, and laying out all the options.

At the heart of this conflict is one key point : the US says China has used unfair tactics – dumping its cheap products in the US, stealing technology from US firms by forcing them into joint ventures, and limiting their market access – to pull ahead in the global economic race.

  • What could China do in a US trade war?
  • Why China won’t balk at US tariff threat
  • Trump says no trade war over tariffs

    It’s how, the US alleges, China has been able to see an unprecedented rate of economic growth, improvement in quality of life, and win a bigger share of the global economy in the last few decades.

    China says: that’s not true.

    Both sides have used the threat of tariffs on key products in equal size and scale.

    “I think the parties will make concessions,” international negotiator Martin Medeiros of Medeiros Law told the BBC’s Asia Business Report programme.

    “I think this is a precursor to some negotiations that will get China on a path…to have a robust set of intellectual property laws… that’s the endgame.”

    No one wins in a trade war

    All well and good, but it doesn’t look like we’re getting to that point anytime soon.

    And both sides stand to lose if this turns into a full blown trade war.

    The US

    • China’s $50bn of retaliation covers more than 40% of US goods exports to China, and accounts for 0.3% of US GDP.
    • Politically sensitive areas like the agricultural sector, car manufacturers and aircraft makers have been targeted.
    • US tariffs on Chinese goods include electronics which China is a major exporter of. It’s hard to see where else American suppliers could get these products.

      China

      • While US tariffs on China won’t hurt overall GDP much, but…
      • Restrictions on soybeans could come at a cost to China. The US is the second largest exporter of soybeans to China. Stopping imports of them is not an option, so prices would rise at home – not good news for a government trying to keep food inflation low.

        The endgame

        Both sides have shown they are willing to act boldly if necessary. And they both have strong hands to play.

        China holds the “nuclear threat” of selling US treasuries (government bonds) if it doesn’t feel the US is playing ball. That would hurt the US economy, as I’ve written about before.

        And the US could call China out as a currency-manipulator in the US Treasury’s semi-annual currency report which is due later this month. Donald Trump promised to do that on the campaign trail – but still hasn’t.

        If the US does that, under a 2015 law it has a year to resolve the issue with China through – you guessed it – more negotiations.

        The reality is that a decision like that wouldn’t have any immediate tangible effect – but it would be another way for the Trump administration to cast China as the villain in this story, and if talks don’t go as the US would like – this may be one tool in it’s arsenal.

        So this could go two ways. There’s room for more negotiation, but that mean both sides need to give something up.

        Question is, will they dance and make a deal?

Trump threatens further $100bn in tariffs against China

US President Donald Trump has instructed officials to consider a further $100bn (£71.3bn) of tariffs against China, in an escalation of a tense trade stand-off.

These would be in addition to the $50bn worth of US tariffs already proposed on hundreds of Chinese imports.

China’s Ministry of Commerce responded, saying China would “not hesitate to pay any price” to defend its interests.

Tit-for-tat trade moves have unsettled global markets in recent weeks.

The latest US proposal came after China threatened tariffs on 106 key US products.

In response to Mr Trump’s latest announcement, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said: “China and the US as two world powers should treat each other on a basis of equality and with respect.

“By waving a big stick of trade sanctions against China, the US has picked a wrong target.”

Ministry of Commerce Spokesman Gao Feng said: “We do not want to fight, but we are not afraid to fight a trade war.”

He said that if the US side ignores opposition from China and the international community and insists on “unilateralist and protectionist acts,” then China will “not hesitate to pay any price, and will definitely strike back resolutely… [to] defend the interests of the country and its people.”

Analysts have warned of the risk of a full-blown trade war for the global economy and the markets, and believe ongoing behind-the-scenes negotiations between the two giants are crucial.

Market reaction in Asia on Friday suggested investors were relatively untroubled by the latest twist in the trade row. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose more than 1% while Japan’s Nikkei index edged lower.

How has this unfolded?

Earlier this year, the US announced it would impose import taxes of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium. The tariffs were to be wide-ranging and would include China.

China responded last month with retaliatory tariffs worth $3bn of its own against the US on a range of goods, including pork and wine. Beijing said the move was intended to safeguard its interests and balance losses caused by the new tariffs.

Then the US announced it was imposing some $50bn worth of tariffs on Chinese-made goods, blaming what it described as unfair Chinese intellectual property practices, such as those that pressured US companies to share technology with Chinese firms.

Mr Trump argues that because Beijing forces any US firms setting up shop in China to tie up with a Chinese company, US ideas are left open to theft and abuse.

Mr Trump reiterated in his statement on Thursday that China’s “illicit trade practices” had been ignored by Washington for years and had destroyed “thousands of American factories and millions of American jobs”.

The draft details of the $50bn to $60bn worth of tariffs were released last week when Washington set out about 1,300 Chinese products it intended to hit with tariffs set at 25%.

China responded this week by proposing retaliatory tariffs, also worth some $50bn, on 106 key US products, including soybeans, aircraft parts and orange juice. This set of tariffs was narrowly aimed at politically important sectors in the US, such as agriculture.

In Mr Trump’s Thursday statement he branded that retaliation by Beijing as “unfair”.

“Rather than remedy its misconduct, China has chosen to harm our farmers and manufacturers,” he said.

“In light of China’s unfair retaliation, I have instructed the USTR (United States Trade Representative) to consider whether $100bn of additional tariffs would be appropriate… and, if so, to identify the products upon which to impose such tariffs.”

He said he had also instructed agricultural officials to implement a plan to protect US farmers and agricultural interests.

What could the impact be?

On the political front, Mr Trump’s latest announcement has elicited a less-than-friendly reception from some fellow Republicans.

They have warned that the tariffs will hurt Americans and cost jobs. They have also said relationships the US has with its other big trading partners could be hurt.

US retail giants including Walmart and Target have also asked Mr Trump to consider carefully the impact the tariffs would have on consumer prices and American families.

On Thursday, Ben Sasse, a Republican Senator from the farming area of Nebraska, said Mr Trump’s latest plan was “nuts” and that he hoped the president was “just blowing off steam”.

“Let’s absolutely take on Chinese bad behaviour, but with a plan that punishes them instead of us,” he said.

“This is the dumbest possible way to do this.”

Mr Sasse’s comments echo sentiment pouring out of various Republican-voting farming belts in the US. America’s soybean farmers are expected to be particularly hurt by Mr Trump’s tariff tactics.

To get a sense of how things might play out for those farmers, the trade tit-for-tat could hit soybean producers in the US – and possibly around the world.

China, which is a big producer of soybeans itself, buys about 60% of all soybeans exported by the US.

It uses the product to feed farmed animals, including pigs and chickens, as well as fish. Those animals are in turn used to help feed China’s enormous population.

China’s demand for soybeans and soybean products has buoyed the price of US soybeans for some time.

  • Five reasons why trade wars aren’t easy to win
  • Not a trade ‘war’ but a trade ‘dance’
  • Why China won’t baulk at US tariff threat

    But Beijing’s tariffs against US soybeans will mostly likely see sales to China fall off, which will in turn hurt American farmers.

    Meanwhile, China will need to set about sourcing the extra soybeans it needs from other countries.

    India is one of the world’s biggest soybean producers, and analysts there have already pointed to a potential trade war between the US and China as an opportunity for its economy.

    Other big soybean producers are Argentina and Brazil, and some studies suggest that is where China will turn to should the current set of proposed tariffs come into force.

    But it could end up paying more than it currently does, ultimately forcing up the price of those animals which eat soybean products. So that would mean pork, for example, China’s most popular meat, could get more expensive. And food price inflation is something that will worry Beijing.

    Beijing Deals

    What China sells to the US

    $462.6bn

    The value of of goods bought by the US from China in 2016.

    • 18.2% of all China's exports go to the United States

    • $129bn worth of China-made electrical machinery bought by US

    • 59.2% growth in Chinese services imported by US between 2006 & 2016

    • $347bn US goods trade deficit with China

      CIA Factbook; USTR. All data for 2016. Getty Images

      How long could this last?

      China has initiated a complaint with the World Trade Organization over the US tariffs, in what analysts say is a sign that this will be a protracted process.

      The WTO circulated the request for consultation to members on Thursday, launching a discussion period before the complaint heads to formal dispute settlement process.

      Meanwhile, under US law, the proposed set of tariffs against about 1,300 Chinese products must now go under review, including a public notice and comment process, and a hearing.

      The hearing is scheduled at the moment for 15 May, with post-hearing filings due a week later.

      So, it could be some months before the USTR will announce its final findings or any decision on whether or not it will move ahead with the proposed tariffs.

Remington: Oldest US gunmaker files for bankruptcy

The oldest gun manufacturer in the US, Remington Outdoor, has filed for bankruptcy in the wake of slumping sales.

The firm, founded more than 200 years ago, filed for bankruptcy protection to cut a deal with its creditors.

Remington’s chief financial officer said the company’s sales dropped significantly in the year before its bankruptcy, court papers show.

The filing comes amid fresh demands for greater gun control in the US.

A shooting at a Florida high school in February has revived the debate on gun control, and on Saturday hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of US cities.

  • Six key March For Our Lives moments
  • The 11-year-old American with a rallying cry
  • Rapper Killer Mike defends owning a gun

    Some US retailers have raised the age limit for certain firearms purchases to 21 or stopped stocking semi-automatic weapons.

    The FBI processed a record number of background checks on gun purchases during the election year in 2016, but the rate of background checks plunged following Mr Trump’s election.

    Analysts say more Americans were buying guns two years ago because they feared a possible Hillary Clinton presidency could usher in gun control policies.

    It is thought that gun sales slowed after Mr Trump took office because firearms enthusiasts generally do not fear a Republican president will try to deprive them of their constitutional right to bear arms.

    Remington, best known for its rifles and shotguns, was founded in 1816.

    After it emerged a Remington rifle was used in the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, victims’ family members filed a lawsuit against the gunmaker.

    In court papers filed in Delaware, Remington’s chief financial officer, Stephen Jackson, said the company was having difficulty meeting requirements from its lenders as a result of declining sales.

    During the bankruptcy process, the company will stay in business.

    In most US Chapter 11 bankruptcy processes, the debtor proposes a reorganisation plan to maintain its business and pay creditors over a period of time.

Russia and Taliban deny US claims of working together

Russia and the Taliban have separately rejected comments made by the head of US forces in Afghanistan that Moscow has been supporting, and even supplying weapons to, the insurgent group.

Gen John Nicholson told the BBC last week he had seen “destabilising activity by the Russians”.

The Russian embassy in Kabul in a statement dismissed the general’s claim as “baseless” and “idle gossip”.

A Taliban spokesman said they had not “received assistance from any country”.

The spokesman told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency: “The enemy has no evidence in this regard.”

  • Who are the Taliban?
  • Sacked Tillerson issues Russia warning
  • Taliban ‘threaten 70% of Afghanistan’

    Speaking with the BBC’s Justin Rowlett, Gen Nicholson said Russia had been undermining US efforts in the region despite shared interests in fighting terrorism and narcotics.

    The US general explained: “We’ve had weapons brought to this headquarters and given to us by Afghan leaders and [they] said, this was given by the Russians to the Taliban.”

    American commanders, including Gen Nicholson, have made similar allegations of collusion before, though no confirmed evidence has been made public.

Russia and Taliban deny US claims of working together

Russia and the Taliban have separately rejected comments made by the head of US forces in Afghanistan that Moscow has been supporting, and even supplying weapons to, the insurgent group.

Gen John Nicholson told the BBC last week he had seen “destabilising activity by the Russians”.

The Russian embassy in Kabul in a statement dismissed the general’s claim as “baseless” and “idle gossip”.

A Taliban spokesman said they had not “received assistance from any country”.

The spokesman told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency: “The enemy has no evidence in this regard.”

  • Who are the Taliban?
  • Sacked Tillerson issues Russia warning
  • Taliban ‘threaten 70% of Afghanistan’

    Speaking with the BBC’s Justin Rowlett, Gen Nicholson said Russia had been undermining US efforts in the region despite shared interests in fighting terrorism and narcotics.

    The US general explained: “We’ve had weapons brought to this headquarters and given to us by Afghan leaders and [they] said, this was given by the Russians to the Taliban.”

    American commanders, including Gen Nicholson, have made similar allegations of collusion before, though no confirmed evidence has been made public.

March For Our Lives: Six key takeaways from the US gun control rallies

It was the biggest gun control protest in a generation. Hundreds of rallies were staged across the US and beyond as marchers filled the streets calling for the implementation of tighter measures following the deadly mass shooting at a Florida school in February.

That incident not only ignited the #NeverAgain movement, but also Saturday’s mass demonstrations, which took place under the banner of March For Our Lives and were led by a rally in Washington DC attended by some 200,000 demonstrators, according to CBS News.

With events not just in the US but as far afield as London, Paris, Mauritius, Tokyo, Stockholm, Sydney, Geneva and Berlin, the day was made up of powerful messages delivered by articulate students and children, most of whom have already in some way experienced gun violence.

  • In pictures: Marches across the US and worldwide

    Here are six key moments from some of the biggest US rallies since the Vietnam War era.

    1. Survivor shows the power of silence

    One of the most emotionally charged moments came when Emma Gonzalez, one of the student survivors of the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, took to the podium in Washington DC.

    Others present at the march in DC included the actor George Clooney, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, director Steven Spielberg, author Stephen King, TV host Ellen DeGeneres, late-night show host Jimmy Fallon and singer Cher.

    Skip Twitter post by @TheEllenShow

    Watching everyone marching and speaking up is so inspiring, and so powerful. Keep going. You're changing the world. #MarchForOurLives

    — Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) March 24, 2018

    Report

    End of Twitter post by @TheEllenShow

    6. Signs that grabbed attention

    Signs carried by protesters included strong messages criticising lawmakers who oppose tougher laws, with many also attacking the National Rifle Association (NRA), the powerful US gun lobby.

    Skip Twitter post by @feministabulous

    #MarchForOurLives pic.twitter.com/nkmzIslZgD

    — Liz Plank (@feministabulous) March 24, 2018

    Report

    End of Twitter post by @feministabulous

    Others included powerful statements that highlighted the need for a rethink on current gun control laws and the sort of devastation that certain types of automatic weapons can inflict.

    Skip Twitter post by @PCC_Car

    #MarchForOurLives Philly One of many signs here. pic.twitter.com/5V9v60KY32

    — Robert Rosenthal (@PCC_Car) March 24, 2018

    Report

    End of Twitter post by @PCC_Car

    There were also signs that carried humour and impact in equal measure.

Russia and Taliban deny US claims of working together

Russia and the Taliban have separately rejected comments made by the head of US forces in Afghanistan that Moscow has been supporting, and even supplying weapons to, the insurgent group.

Gen John Nicholson told the BBC last week he had seen “destabilising activity by the Russians”.

The Russian embassy in Kabul in a statement dismissed the general’s claim as “baseless” and “idle gossip”.

A Taliban spokesman said they had not “received assistance from any country”.

The spokesman told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency: “The enemy has no evidence in this regard.”

  • Who are the Taliban?
  • Sacked Tillerson issues Russia warning
  • Taliban ‘threaten 70% of Afghanistan’

    Speaking with the BBC’s Justin Rowlett, Gen Nicholson said Russia had been undermining US efforts in the region despite shared interests in fighting terrorism and narcotics.

    The US general explained: “We’ve had weapons brought to this headquarters and given to us by Afghan leaders and [they] said, this was given by the Russians to the Taliban.”

    American commanders, including Gen Nicholson, have made similar allegations of collusion before, though no confirmed evidence has been made public.

Obituary: The 9/11 rescuers who died a day apart, 17 years on

When Thomas Phelan and Keith Young died within a day of each other last week, it was as a result of cancer, from which both had been suffering.

But the underlying cause of the firefighters’ deaths was the event which they both witnessed up close 17 years earlier: the 11 September attack on New York.

Phelan and Young’s names will not be added to the official tally of 2,977 people killed in the attacks, which also targeted the Pentagon and a plane that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Their deaths were, however, a result of what happened at the World Trade Center that September morning.

According to records maintained by the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York (UFANYC) union, theirs were the 172nd and 173rd deaths of firefighters to have occurred because of 9/11-related illnesses, and the sixth and seventh so far this year.

Keith Young joined the FDNY in 1998 and was stationed in Midwood, Brooklyn on the day of the attacks, when 343 firefighters were killed.

He joined the rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero, which went on for nine months afterwards.

While no emergency workers died during the recovery efforts, working in Ground Zero soon took its toll. The first 9/11-related death of a firefighter registered after the disaster is that of Gary Celentani, who took his own life 14 months after losing many of his close friends.

Many others, like Young, were struck down with cancer attributed to the effects of being at the site.

He first fell ill in December 2015, three years after his wife Beth died of breast cancer aged 47, and underwent surgery to remove a large tumour from his pelvis.

After his treatment, he retired from duty, but died aged 53 on Saturday 17 March.

“He fought so hard and kept believing in miracles,” his daughter Kaley wrote on Facebook after his death. “There are so many adjectives we could use to describe my dad: funny, smart, kind. He was just an incredible human.”

While working for the FDNY, he became well-known for his skills in the kitchen, and received a degree in culinary studies.

In 2003, he published a book, Cooking With The Firehouse Chef, and he went on to win two titles on the Food Network television show Chopped.

He leaves two daughters and a son, and his funeral took place on Saturday.

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Heaven is so lucky to have the most incredible angel. I love you so much Dad, thank you for being the world’s greatest father and best friend. Mom must be so happy to have you in heaven with her ♥️ until we meet again xoxo @firehousechefky

A post shared by kaley young (@kaleyyoung) on Mar 17, 2018 at 5:15pm PDT

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According to the CDC, just under 70,000 people who helped during 9/11 have applied for medical aid after the disaster, as have about 14,300 people who were in New York City at the time.

Among the main illnesses treated are chronic coughs, asthma, cancers and depression.

In January 2011, the Zadroga Act – named after a police officer who died of a lung disease – was signed into law, authorising a fund for monitoring, treatment and compensation for 9/11 survivors. So far, close to $3.3bn has been paid out.

New York’s Committee for Occupational Safety & Health says that about 6,000 of the 9/11 first responders are now living with cancer, with thousands more suffering breathing problems or mental health issues.

Many, it said, had “suffered severe exposure to numerous WTC-derived contaminants”.

Gerard Fitzgerald, of the firefighters’ union the UFANYC, told the BBC that of the 10,000 active firefighters and 6,000 retirees who attended Ground Zero on or after 9/11, about 2,000 had gone on to suffer some form of cancer.

He fears the alarming rate of cancer cases among New York firefighters could soon increase substantially. It’s feared that 9/11 first responders were exposed to significant amounts of asbestos, but cancers caused by asbestos exposure rarely emerge until 15 years later.

“We are living proof of the 9/11 effects, of that toxic soup we were breathing in,” said Mr Fitzgerald, who arrived in Manhattan just after the second tower fell, before staying for 40 more hours.

“Every time, the thought goes through your head – could it be me next? Is it inside me? But you can’t live like that.”