Published on Jul 20, 2012

Within the next five years, it is expected that nearly 65 million homes in the U.S. will have wireless smart meters. But some California environmentalists, liberals, Tea Party supporters and other activists are not enthused by this. At the heart of the debate is whether smart meters can cause illness. Spencer Michels reports.

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Trump assails China and orders U.S. firms to exit the country


By Caitlin Oprysko, Nancy Cook, and Adam Behsudi

President Donald Trump on Friday lobbed Twitter attacks at China, U.S. companies and his handpicked Federal Reserve chief as he warned of an unspecified action against the world’s No. 2 economy coming later Friday — a reflection of Trump’s rising anxiety about an increasingly troubled economic picture at home. 

He responded with fury after taking a pair of blows Friday morning when China announced a fresh round of tariffs and Fed Chairman Jay Powell did not explicitly pledge aggressive interest rate cuts as the president has demanded. 

Erupting on Twitter, the president vowed a yet-to-be-announced counterattack against Beijing, ordered U.S. companies to find an alternative to doing business with China and suggested Powell could be a “bigger enemy” than the country’s communist leader. 

It was unclear exactly what Trump meant with his directive to the U.S. companies or whether he plans additional action to execute the order, but the tweets captured the president's frustration as his escalating trade war with China weighs on the economy and heightens the risk of a recession during an election year.

"Our Country has lost, stupidly, Trillions of Dollars with China over many years. They have stolen our Intellectual Property at a rate of Hundreds of Billions of Dollars a year, & they want to continue," Trump wrote. "I won’t let that happen! We don’t need China and, frankly, would be far better off without them."

He continued, "The vast amounts of money made and stolen by China from the United States, year after year, for decades, will and must STOP. Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing your companies HOME and making your products in the USA. I will be responding to China’s Tariffs this afternoon. This is a GREAT opportunity for the United States." 

Investors had been in a relatively forgiving mood after both the China tariffs and the Fed speech. But Trump’s tweets triggered a sharp sell-off in the stock market, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down more than 500 points in afternoon trading.

Trump’s tweets took the president’s aides by surprise, triggering the latest instance of the White House making policy on-the-fly after Trump issued a directive via Twitter. Trump huddled midday with his economic team including trade adviser Peter Navarro, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who was on vacation and called into the meeting by phone, according to a senior administration official.

The president seems unlikely to back away from the trade stand-off with China anytime soon, close White House allies and current and former administration officials said. 

During a two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Monday with several top aides and Cabinet members, Trump repeatedly told attendees “I just want a fair deal” when it comes to China. The meeting included discussion of both China and trade, among other topics, ahead of this weekend’s G7 summit.

“The president is optimistic and confident that the U.S. has the benefit and the upper hand with China,” insisted one former senior administration official. “I do not think he will back down.”

Current and former White House aides viewed China’s retaliatory tariffs on Friday — and Trump’s Twitter response to them — as both countries angling for dominance ahead of the G7.

China on Friday announced a fresh round of tariffs on $75 billion in U.S. goods ranging from 5 percent to 10 percent. They will go into effect in waves beginning Sept. 1 and Dec. 15, Beijing said. 

China’s state-run news agency Xinhua on Friday quoted the country’s tariff commission, which said the penalties were in response to levies threatened by the U.S. on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods.

“The U.S. measures have led to the continuous escalation of China-U.S. economic and trade frictions, which have greatly harmed the interests of China, the U.S. and other countries, and have also seriously threatened the multilateral trading system and the principle of free trade,” Beijing said. 

The announcement from China was shortly followed by a speech from Powell in which he said the central bank stands ready to do what is necessary to support the record-long U.S. economic expansion. But he did not signal that significant interest rate cuts will be coming soon, angering Trump. 

"As usual, the Fed did NOTHING! It is incredible that they can 'speak' without knowing or asking what I am doing, which will be announced shortly. We have a very strong dollar and a very weak Fed. I will work 'brilliantly' with both, and the U.S. will do great," Trump tweeted.

He then launched a personal attack on Powell, writing, "My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?"

Among the options Trump was weighing for hitting back against Beijing is increasing a 10 percent tariff to 25 percent on almost all remaining Chinese imports, said a person close to the deliberations.

Another option on the table was reversing a special waiver granted this week that gave U.S. companies three more months to conduct a limited amount of business with blacklisted Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, the person said.

Trump’s outrage at China’s retaliation was largely driven by his perception that the Chinese economy is on the brink of ruin and Beijing would be reluctant to make a move that would further put it in jeopardy, the person said.

“It was a great surprise to Trump,” the person said of China’s announcement that it would retaliate.

Trump has repeatedly claimed in recent days that U.S. tariffs were causing China to hemorrhage jobs, up to 2.5 million “in a very short period of time,” and has cited other numbers.

“They had the worst year in 27 years, but I think it was actually 52 or 54 years. It was the worst year they've had in a half a century. And that's because of me,” Trump told reporters Wednesday.

The person close to the talks said Trump’s view has been largely informed by Navarro, who has advocated a complete decoupling between the U.S. and Chinese economies. Trump on Friday echoed that sentiment by telling U.S. companies to leave China.

Other aides have cautioned Trump not to discount China’s ability to weather economic pain and its willingness to retaliate against the additional tariffs he announced on Aug. 1, the person said.

Meanwhile, a U.S. companies in China say they aren’t going anywhere despite the challenges of operating in that market.

“China will contribute a significant proportion of global growth in the decades ahead,” said Jake Parker, senior vice president of the U.S.-China Business Council. “Missing out on that opportunity would weaken the competitiveness of U.S. industry and harm the United States national interests at home.”

Earlier on Friday, Navarro, who provides a strong protectionist voice on U.S. trade talks within the Trump administration, denied that China's announcement caught the White House off guard and downplayed the impact of the move.

“This was a move that was well-signaled,” Navarro said on CNN. “It's breaking news, I guess, but it was well-anticipated.”

The latest front in the tariff battle between China and the U.S. comes as fears grow about a recession. Trump has tweeted relentlessly about the issue in recent days, pinning blame on Powell while he heralded what he says is a booming economy that he's accused the news media of trying to tank to hurt his reelection prospects. 

Though he conceded the economy was slowing, Navarro blamed the Fed for slow-walking rate cuts, calling economic worries "a pure Federal Reserve effect on higher interest rates."

Navarro was pressed on some business leaders’ admissions that the uncertainty due to the trade war was dampening investment, but he again blamed monetary policy emanating from the Fed. 

“They can't make investments because the Fed raised interest rates too far, too fast,” he argued. “If you raise interest rates, you cut down investment and you cut down exports.”

Ahead of Powell's speech, both Navarro and Trump appeared confident in what the Fed chief would say, sentiments that apparently evaporated immediately after the Fed chairman’s remarks at a Kansas City Fed conference in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

"Now the Fed can show their stuff!" Trump said about an hour before the speech. 

Navarro also talked up Powell's remarks, framing them as a potential counterweight to the tariff news. 

"What's important today — look, this is a big day, tomorrow is a big day. It's a big day today because we're going to get better signals from the federal reserve as to whether they're going to get in line with over 30 central banks around the world that have been cutting rates," he said, adding later that forecasting aggressive rate cuts should show "he's got America's back." 

The central bank and Powell have become favorite punching bags of Trump as ominous economic signs have emerged ahead of next year’s election. But Navarro, unprompted at the top of the CNN interview, said there's "no anxiety in the White House about the economy.” 

"We don't run around the West Wing with anxiety. We look at the chessboard and we see basically a strong Trump economy growing at 2 percent because of tax cuts, deregulation, cheap energy and trade," he said.

Navarro also defended Trump's decision this month to delay tariffs on certain Chinese goods like electronics and some clothing until Dec. 15, citing a desire to avoid the tariffs hampering the Christmas shopping season. He would not say if Trump would reimpose those tariffs in light of China's latest move, saying the White House would have conversations about it and reiterating that it "is not breaking news."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the leading lobbying group for U.S. businesses, sought to lower the temperature. “U.S. companies have been ambassadors for positive changes to the Chinese economy that continue to benefit both our people,“ Myron Brilliant, the Chamber's executive vice president and head of international affairs, said in a statement. “We do not want to see a further deterioration of U.S.-China relations. We urge the administration and the government of China to return to the negotiating table.“

While China‘s latest latest retaliatory tariffs seem to have especially provoked Trump's fury, they represent “a mild, proportionate response,” to the U.S. decision earlier this month to move forward with more duties, said Agathe Demarais, global forecasting director at The Economist Intelligence unit.

“The recent rise in nationalist, patriotic behavior in China means that it would have been impossible for the Chinese government not to react to the latest US tariffs,” she said.

In the grand scheme of things, tariffs of 5 to 10 percent on $75 billion worth of imports “is not even a rounding error in estimating the impact on the U.S. economy,” added Derek Scissors, a China expert at the American Enterprise Institute who has advised the Trump administration.

But the move is more of a “token action” that signals that Beijing doesn’t see ongoing trade talks between the two countries going anywhere, he said. 

The two sides have for more than a year been engaged in talks discussing systemic issues like China’s handling of U.S. intellectual property and other market access and trade issues, including its purchases of American farm goods.

In his later tweets, Trump also singled out shipping companies, writing, "Also, I am ordering all carriers, including Fed Ex, Amazon, UPS and the Post Office, to SEARCH FOR & REFUSE, all deliveries of Fentanyl from China (or anywhere else!). Fentanyl kills 100,000 Americans a year. President Xi said this would stop - it didn’t. Our Economy, because of our gains in the last 2 1/2 years, is MUCH larger than that of China. We will keep it that way!"

Trump and his aides have been mostly unyielding in his complaints that Powell and the Fed are to blame for any economic sluggishness, but Powell on Friday singled out the erratic trade directives coming from the White House. 

Earlier this week, Trump contended that “we don't have a fed that knows what they're doing,” asserting that if Powell would follow his advice the economy would take off like a “rocket ship.” 

Powell vowed that the central bank will “act as appropriate” to sustain a record-breaking period of economic growth following the 2008 financial crisis. But he steered away from providing specifics, calling uncertainty stemming from Trump’s trade policies one of the major factors he was keeping an eye on. 

He also cited other geopolitical events like the growing possibility of a hard Brexit, rising tensions in Hong Kong, and the dissolution of the Italian government, saying that "long term bond rates around the world have moved down sharply to near post-crisis lows."

But the Fed chief emphasized the novelty of the current trade environment, telling the audience that “fitting trade policy uncertainty into this framework is a new challenge. There are… no recent precedents to guide any policy response to the current situation.” 

He continued, “while monetary policy is a powerful tool that works to support consumer spending, business investment, and public confidence, it cannot provide a settled rulebook for international trade. We can, however, try to look through what may be passing events, focus on how trade developments are affecting the outlook, and adjust policy to promote our objectives.”


How Facebook Libra Has Been Influencing Crypto, Politics and Finance


By Stephen O’Neal

Over the past few days, a number of Libra-related announcements have been made — only, they weren’t from Facebook, the Libra Association, Calibra wallet or any other party involved in its development. 

First, top crypto exchange Binance announced a project called “Venus” — coincidentally, another astrology-themed name — which will focus on developing “localized stablecoins” worldwide; the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) said it is almost ready to launch its government-backed digital currency, reportedly admitting that Libra prompted it to speed up; and Erik Finman, ostensibly the youngest Bitcoin (BTC) millionaire, launched a crypto peer-to-peer (P2P) payment app, called “Metal” — daringly marketing it as "the Libra killer."

Libra has been making waves since its white paper was released in mid-June, prompting regulators across the world to form global task forces, United States legislators to hold multiple hearings in the Senate and crypto firms to roll out competing projects. 

However, Libra itself is still far from seeing the light of day: Its initial release is scheduled for 2020, but given the scale of regulatory backlash it has been facing, the future of Facebook’s crypto venture is hardly set in stone. Nevertheless, just two months in, its influence on the space is already palpable. 

Libra and the regulatory splash

Libra, a stablecoin-like digital asset and a blockchain-based financial infrastructure project, was officially announced on June 18, when Facebook published its white paper. The release followed several media reports suggesting that the social media titan was developing a cryptocurrency that will facilitate payments across its platforms — WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram — which boast a combined 2.7 billion monthly users

The project seeks to target the unbanked population, which accounts for around 1.7 billion adults across the globe, with a focus on cross-border remittance. The latter aspect puts Libra alongside the likes of Visa and Mastercard — both of which have invested in the project — as well as some fellow cryptocurrency firms like Ripple and the XRP token. 

The project will be governed by the Libra Association, a not-for-profit consortium headquartered in Switzerland, which includes Mastercard, PayPal, Visa, eBay, Coinbase, Andreessen Horowitz, Lyft and Uber among a total of 28 founding members. 

There is also Calibra, a Facebook subsidiary, which is developing an eponymous digital wallet to facilitate Libra transactions, while the currency will be supported by third-party wallets — as the software powering the Libra blockchain is open source, as its developers have said. Once ready, the wallet will be available to all of the social media’s users.

The looming release of Facebook’s new project caused immediate regulatory resentment, triggering a new wave of national-level discussions on the legal status of cryptocurrencies. The company’s infamous reputation for being involved in privacy-related scandals — the most recent being Cambridge Analytica, which resulted in a record-breaking $5 billion fine— its all-encompassing scale and its barefaced interest in cryptocurrencies made it an unmissable target for regulators across the world. 

In July, U.S. congressional hearings on the matter began, and Calibra CEO David Marcus was interviewed twice before Congress. The key take-away from those meetings was that Facebook won’t launch Libra until regulators’ concerns are fully addressed, as Marcus explicitly reassured both lawmakers and investors. That has not entirely mitigated the pushback, however, as the European Union antitrust regulators have launched a probe into Libra. 

Meanwhile, U.S. legislators — including vocal Libra skeptic Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) — are travelling to Switzerland, the home of the Libra Association, to meet with Swiss Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner Adrian Lobsiger to exchange views about digital currencies.

John Todaro, director of research and provider of institutional trading tools for digital currencies at TradeBlock, summarized the main reasons behind the intensified scrutiny in a comment for Cointelegraph:

“The primary attention Libra is getting is because of the size of Facebook, its resources, and its ability to integrate a low cost, efficient digital currency payment channel across a number of its own platforms which could bring significant adoption to the space. Other projects have not seen the same level of interest, mainly because they do not have an ability to accelerate adoption of a stablecoin so quickly, which Facebook could accomplish.”

The scale of the regulatory backlash is not surprising, despite the rawness of Facebook’s project, experts say. Konstantinos Stylianou, assistant professor of competition law and regulation at the University of Leeds, told Cointelegraph that for regulators, it is never too early to start worrying about potential problems. He elaborated:

“Financial regulators are right to go in first, because financial regulation aims to ensure that Libra and its clones comply with set standards before they launch. Other regulators, like the European Commission's antitrust arm, which recently started an investigation into Libra, have a long way to go, because they need to prove actual harm. But even so, their early activity sends a message to the industry that the regulator's watchful eye is there to stop illegal activity at its inception.”

Other experts, like Lars Seier Christensen, chairman of Swiss blockchain identity network Concordium and former CEO at Saxo Bank, are even surprised that Facebook has not foreseen some of the regulators’ worries. Christensen explained to Cointelegraph:

“I actually fully understand the concerns of regulators as Libra raises a host of major issues because of the potential scale of the project. I think Facebook may have been a little too quick off the block here, because many of the concerns about systemic risk, disruption of money markets, and moral hazard were easily predictable and could have been addressed from the beginning.”

Libra and its killers: Chinese government, Binance and Walmart

While many of the aforementioned jurisdictions were busy discussing the potential ways to regulate Libra, China took a somewhat different approach. For the East Asian powerhouse, where the sale of cryptocurrencies is explicitly banned, Facebook's project turned out to be the prime motivator in hastening the development of its own state-controlled digital currency.

Notably, during one of the congressional hearings, Marcus warned lawmakers that vetoing Libra could result in the U.S. being left behind: 

"I believe that if America does not lead innovation in the digital currency and payments area, others will. If we fail to act, we could soon see a digital currency controlled by others whose values are dramatically different.”

China steps in

Thus, after five years of research and system development work since 2018, the PBoC is almost ready to launch its central bank digital currency (CBDC), according to a recent reportfrom the state-owned news portal China Daily. As Yang Dong — director of the Research Center of Finance Technology and Cyber Security at Renmin University of China — told the publication that the announcement of Libra has motivated the project’s designers to involve more private institutions in development and issuance process of a CBDC, which seems to follow the concept of the Libra Association. 

Co-founder of a decentralized cloud computing network Aelf, Chen Zhuling, whose associate Ma Haobo is a committee member of the government-affiliated Chinese Institute of Electronics Blockchain Branch, told Cointelegraph in an email conversation that:

“Considering how mobile payment and e-money has been fully adopted in the Chinese society, it is inevitable that the government is also looking at digital currency initiative. More than half of global Bitcoin hash rate is under mining pools in China, the government is no strange to cryptocurrency.”

Patrick Dai, co-founder of Qtum, a blockchain platform that has a presence in China, is largely optimistic about the project, as he told Cointelegraph that the PBoC’s currency is likely to beat Facebook in terms of public resonance and will challenge “the monopoly” of local giants WeChat and Alipay:

“People’s Bank of China’s digital currency will escalate and affect crypto adoption at a much greater magnitude than Facebook’s Libra announcement. There is already overwhelming distrust of Facebook. Introducing a new asset class also brings healthy competition to the Chinese FinTech ecosystem, which is currently dominated by a few major players. A complimentary payment solution helps break up the monopoly of power from payment giants like WeChatPay and Alipay.”

However, CBDCs and privately issued cryptocurrencies can co-exist, which is relevant for capitalist economic systems exclusively, professor Stylianou said:

“Central bank cryptocurrencies and private cryptocurrencies are not in a zero-sum game. The adoption of one does not detract from the adoption of the other. They can and will most likely co-exist, much like state-provisioned goods co-exist with privately-provisioned goods in every other industry. This, of course, only applies to free capitalistic economies.”

Binance launches a race to the stars

Other Libra competitors come from the private sector. Arguably, the strongest attempt to topple Facebook’s crypto project is being performed by Binance, one of the world’s largest crypto exchange, although, as its CEO, Changpeng Zhao, diplomatically noted, it is “always happy to co-exist.” 

Thus, following the astrological theme, Binance’s open blockchain project is dubbed “Venus” and focuses on developing localized stablecoins around the world based on Binance Chain, which reportedly has a wide user base and has already established global compliance measures. 

However, it is still unclear whether Venus actually could rival Libra for the global crown. Judging by the announcements made in English and Chinese, the tones used are drastically different, with the latter mentioning challenging “financial hegemony” and creating “independent ‘regional version of Libra.’” Binance has not yet responded to Cointelegraph’s request for clarification regarding the relationship with Libra.

There is also a global retail giant, Walmart, that has already filed a patent for a U.S. dollar-backed digital currency similar to Libra. According to the retail giant, it could provide low-income households — for whom banking is costly — with “an alternative way to handle wealth at an institution that can supply the majority of their day-to-day financial and product needs.” Additionally, it could further challenge incumbent banks by removing the need for credit and debit cards, Walmart suggested in the filing.

Libra has also provoked a response from smaller, crypto-oriented startups, which are brazingly calling themselves “Libra killers.” For instance, Erik Finmann, known as the youngest Bitcoin millionaire, has recently announced a crypto P2P payment app called “Metal” that reportedly supports Bitcoin and Ethereum (ETH), among other cryptocurrencies. 

It seems to be working in select U.S. states at the moment, which makes it unclear how it could “finally bring crypto to the people — in ways that Facebook Libra only wishes they could,” as Finmann put it on Twitter, given the scale of the social media giant’s operation. Metal has not responded to Cointelegraph’s request to clarify the scale of its operation. 

Libra’s influence has accelerated, despite all the difficulties

While it is not certain if Libra will ever manage to get through the regulatory hurdles it is facing, its impact on the crypto industry — and even the larger financial world — is evident. TradeBlock’s Todaro told Cointelegraph, “Libra has influenced the industry insofar that other large corporate entities and governments have sped up their projects on stablecoins, such as Wal-mart, PBoC, Binance and others.”

Notably, while the overall scope of Facebook’s crypto project could have been predicted, experts are perplexed by the breakneck speed at which everything around it is unfolding. “It was only a matter of time until Libra contenders emerged,” Stylianou told Cointelegraph. “What's surprising is how quickly it's all happening.” He went on to say:

“The majority of Libra killers will be extinct within a few years (including, possibly, Libra itself), as it always happens with prototypes, but that at the same time means that some others will survive.”

Thus, Libra seems to be actively unsettling the crypto space even at its most infant stage, urging other actors to launch similar stablecoin-based projects or join it by investing as much as $10 million. Among the interested parties are online brokerage Monex Group Inc., the owner of the hacked Japanese crypto exchange Coincheck and even the Winklevoss twins, who have famously had a falling out with Mark Zuckerberg over Facebook in the past. 

On the other hand, some of the earlier investors are reportedly asking to get off the trainbecause they’re frustrated with Libra’s half-baked strategy — as well as the intense regulatory pushback it has been getting.


As focus turns to Jeffrey Epstein's ranch, official says: "There is a story to be told in New Mexico"

Image: Reuters

Image: Reuters

New Mexico's commissioner of public lands said she's on a mission for justice as details emerge about Jeffrey Epstein's alleged sex abuse at his ranch in the state. In an exclusive interview, she revealed her office is fully cooperating with investigators and has turned over 400 pages of Epstein's property records to investigators — documents that may contain names of his alleged co-conspirators.

As investigators begin to interview women who said they were abused at Epstein's ranch, New Mexico Public Lands Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard told CBS News' Mola Lenghi she hopes taking this step will inspire more alleged victims to come forward because "there is a story to be told in New Mexico."

"To say that it was heart wrenching and sickening to see this man's signature on state land office documents is an understatement," Garcia Richard said. 

Epstein's compound, called Zorro Ranch, partially rests on land he leased from Garcia Richard's office. The lease agreements with the state were included when Epstein purchased the property in 1993 under the name Zorro Trust, which later became Cypress, Inc. Garcia Richard said she is now reviewing the leases with Cypress, Inc. to see if it is in breach of contract. If so, the commissioner insisted she would terminate the agreements.

As with his homes in New York, Palm Beach and the Virgin Islands, Epstein, a convicted sex offender, is alleged to have sexually abused young girls on the sprawling, nearly 10,000-acre property.

For Garcia Richard, it's difficult to imagine what may have been happening on the New Mexico property. 

"They name folks that were ranch managers, and so you just kind of wonder who knew what when at the time that these activities were taking place," she said. 

State property records newly obtained by CBS News show that in addition to a main house, Epstein's property has a pool, firehouse, offices, a log cabin and guest house among other amenities. Garcia Richard said the property also features an airstrip, an antique railroad car and train tracks. 

Epstein didn't appear to have connections in New Mexico prior to purchasing Zorro Ranch. Asked what would draw him to the state, Garcia Richard said, "I think there's a perception that people won't ask questions … this case can really show the world that you can't get away with things in New Mexico."

Sources told CBS News that Epstein leaned on his political connections in New Mexico. Former Governor Bill Richardson visited the Zorro Ranch at least once. Epstein accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre alleged in a recently unsealed 2016 deposition that Epstein's friend Ghislaine Maxwell told her to have sex with Richardson. 

Soon after the deposition was unsealed, a spokesperson for the former governor said in a statement, "These allegations and inferences are completely false. To be clear, in Governor Richardson's limited interactions with Mr. Epstein, he never saw him in the presence of young or underage girls. Governor Richardson has never met Ms. Giuffre."