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    Five American journalists sued the U.S. government Wednesday, alleging border authorities violated their First Amendment rights by inspecting their cameras and notebooks and questioning them extensively about their coverage of last year’s migrant caravan. The lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union recounts the experiences of the freelance photographers and seeks to test the limits of U.S. officials’ broad authority to question anyone, including journalists, entering the country. All five are U.S. citizens and are named and pictured in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection dossier of 59 people that the agency linked to the caravan, including journalists, organizers and “instigators.” While KNSD, the NBC affiliate in San Diego, reported on the existence of the dossier in March, the journalists have never shared such detailed accounts of how they were treated by U.S. and Mexican officials. The NBC affiliate reported Tuesday that it received the dossier from Wesley Petonak, then a special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit in San Diego. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in New York, opens a window into how U.S. authorities responded to the giant caravan, which attracted President Donald Trump’s attention during the midterm election and spawned chaos in Tijuana, Mexico, including a five-hour closure of the nation’s largest border crossing on Thanksgiving weekend. Customs and Border Protection said late Wednesday that it does not comment on pending litigation. The Justice and Homeland Security Departments did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Mark Abramson, a photographer working for The New York Times, said two CBP officers patted him down when he returned to the U.S. at the San Diego border crossing on Jan. 5. They emptied his pockets and searched his bag, which contained notebooks with “confidential source material,” the names and contact information of people he encountered while working, personal reflections and receipts to be submitted to his editor for reimbursement, the lawsuit said. After being taken to another room and patted down again, Abramson said another officer asked what was in his “book,” who was leading the caravan, whether they were for or against the U.S. government and whether he knew of any groups helping the caravan. Bing Guan, who sold caravan photos to The Intercept, said Mexican authorities approached him Dec. 27 and took a photo of his passport picture, which others also have reported. Two days later, he was stopped by CBP in San Diego and questioned for an hour by a plainclothes officer about whether he knew smugglers, activists or other journalists helping migrants across the border. He was shown photos and asked to identify “instigators.” The officer walked him to his car and examined photos on his cameras, taking images of some. “I know you’ve been around the migrant caravan,” the lawsuit quotes the officer as saying. When Guan returned to Tijuana in August, a Mexican immigration official said an “alert” had been placed on his passport. Go Nakamura, who has worked for The Guardian, The New York Times and Reuters, was with Guan when they crossed the border and was questioned separately along similar lines. He said he was told to share his photos and asked whether he recognized any caravan leaders in photos he was shown. Mexican authorities told him on a stopover from Peru to New York that he had an alert on his passport. Kitra Cahana, who covered the caravan for the Huffington Post, The New York Times and German newspaper Die Zeit, was turned around at Mexico City’s airport on Jan. 17 and had her phone confiscated before being returned to Detroit. U.S. authorities there produced a photo with an ‘X’ over her face when her passport was scanned, just as they did when she left the country, and questioned her about the caravan. Ariana Drehsler, who was covering the caravan for United Press International and has had her work published by The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and The Wall Street Journal, was questioned extensively three times by U.S. authorities at the San Diego border crossing in December and January. They asked to see her photos, which she didn’t share, and to identify caravan leaders. They wanted to know if word had reached migrants who were thinking of coming to the U.S. “You’re on the ground, you’re there; we’re not,” one official is quoted as saying.
  • California is expected to have a $7 billion budget surplus next year, but lawmakers were urged Wednesday not to spend all of it because a sizable chunk depends on an upcoming decision by the Trump administration as it feuds with state Democratic leaders. A report from the bipartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office says California’s savings account could grow to more than $18 billion by the end of 2021. That’s enough to make it through a typical recession, although the state would likely have to slash public education spending in the event of a downturn, the report said. However, nearly $2 billion of the initial $7 billion projected surplus depends on whether the Trump administration lets California tax organizations that manage the state’s Medicaid plans. California needs permission from the federal government to continue the tax. But the federal government recently proposed new rules that likely would not allow it. It’s unclear when those rules would take effect. “The state is not in this alone,” Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said. “Federal actions may hurt our budget in three ways: by damaging the economy as a whole, by hurling fiscal threats at our revenues, and by withholding funds for programs that benefit Californians.” California’s strained relationship with the Trump administration includes disputes over emission standards for cars and protections for endangered species. “President Trump talks a lot about America’s economic growth under his presidency, but when you look behind the numbers, you see it’s California’s growth that has provided the economic rocket fuel for the nation,” Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said in response to the budget estimate. “The federal government would be wise to look to California as a model for how to get its fiscal house in order.” Democratic legislative leaders viewed the estimate as proof of their responsible stewardship of the world’s fifth-largest economy, with Democratic Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins declaring “the days of the perennial budget crisis — even during good economic times — are thankfully behind us.” Still, the legislative analyst warned that risks of an economic slowdown are higher than normal, pointing to weaknesses in housing markets, trade activity, new car sales and business startup funding. Lawmakers were urged not to commit more than $1 billion of the projected surplus to ongoing spending. “This does not necessarily mean a broader economic slowdown is imminent in the near term,” the report said. “Nonetheless, there likely is greater risk in the economic outlook for 2020-21 than in previous budget cycles.” California’s tax revenue has soared since 2012. Unemployment dipped below 4% last month, and the scarcity of jobs has caused employers to increase wages to attract workers. From 2012 to 2017, California wages increased 4% a year on average when adjusted for inflation. California had a record $21.5 billion surplus in the state budget last year. Newsom and the Democratic-controlled state Legislature spent more than half of that money on paying down debts and boosting reserves. About $4 billion of it went to support ongoing programs while the rest was used for one-time projects. The analyst’s office expects wage growth to slow over the next few years. That would affect the state’s personal income tax collections, which is the largest source of the state’s money. Newsom must present his budget proposal to the state Legislature no later than Jan. 10. Lawmakers must pass an operating budget by June 15.
  • In a blow to GOP defenses of President Donald Trump, a Defense Department official said Wednesday the Ukrainian government asked “what was going on” with U.S. military aid as early as July 25 — the very day that Trump asked Ukraine’s president to investigate Democrats. Testifying in an evening hearing, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper told lawmakers her staff recently showed her emails that she had not yet seen when she testified behind closed doors last month in the impeachment probe looking into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Cooper said her staff received an email on July 25 from a Ukrainian embassy contact asking 'what was going on with Ukraine's security assistance.' She said she 'cannot say for certain' that Ukraine was aware the aid was being withheld, but said 'it's the recollection of my staff that they likely knew.' Republicans have argued there couldn’t be a “quid pro quo” — investigations into Democrats for military aid — if Ukrainians weren’t aware of a hold on the aid. “Your testimony today destroys two of the pillars of the president’s defense,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif. “The first pillar: No harm no foul. The Ukrainians didn’t know that the hold was in place, so it didn’t really hurt them. The second pillar: This president was a real champion of anti-corruption.” Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Zelenskiy occurred in the morning in Washington. After Zelenskiy pressed for the military aid, Trump suggested Ukraine “look into” Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a huge Ukrainian natural gas company. In addition to the email from the Ukrainian Embassy, Cooper testified that her staff also received two emails from the State Department that afternoon of July 25. One said “that the Ukrainian Embassy and House Foreign Affairs Committee are asking about security assistance.” A second email said “the Hill knows about the (military aid) situation to an extent and so does the Ukrainian Embassy.
  • A divided U.S. House committee approved a proposal Wednesday to decriminalize and tax marijuana at the federal level, a vote that was alternately described as a momentous turning point in national cannabis policy or a hollow political gesture. The House Judiciary Committee approved the proposal 24-10 after more than two hours of debate. It would reverse a longstanding federal prohibition by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, while allowing states to set their own rules on pot. The vote “marks a turning point for federal cannabis policy and is truly a sign that prohibition’s days are numbered,” Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said in a statement. Cannabis Trade Federation CEO Neal Levine called the vote “a historic step forward for cannabis policy reform.” The vote comes at a time when most Americans live in states where marijuana is legal in some form, and committee members from both parties agreed that national cannabis policy lagged woefully behind changes at the state level. That divide has created a host of problems — loans and other banking services, for example, are hard to get for many marijuana companies because pot remains illegal at the federal level. However, the bill’s future is uncertain. It wasn’t immediately clear if the proposal would be reviewed by other committees and when, or if, a vote would take place in the full House. The proposal has better chances of passing in the Democratic-controlled chamber than in the Republican-held Senate. The House passed a bill earlier this year to grant legal marijuana businesses access to banking, but it hasn’t advanced in the Senate. Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee complained that the proposal to decriminalize cannabis had never had a hearing and lacked the bipartisan support needed to become law. “It’s going nowhere,” said Rep. Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican. Among its provisions, the legislation would authorize a 5% sales tax on marijuana products to fund programs aimed at assisting people and communities harmed in the so-called war on drugs, such as job training and legal aid. It also would require federal courts to expunge prior marijuana convictions. Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said the nation has for too long “treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem, instead of a matter of personal choice and public health.” “Arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating users at the federal level is unwise and unjust,” the New York Democrat said. “The racial disparity in enforcement of marijuana laws has only compounded this mistake with serious consequences, particularly for minority communities.” ___ Blood is a member of AP's marijuana beat team. Follow the AP's complete marijuana coverage: https://apnews.com/Marijuana
  • Amnesty International issued a scathing indictment of the world’s dominant internet corporations, arguing in a new report that Google and Facebook should be forced to abandon what it calls their surveillance-based business model because it is “predicated on human rights abuse.” The London-based global rights group said in the 60-page report published Thursday that the business model of what it calls the “Surveillance Giants” is “inherently incompatible with the right to privacy.” Google and Facebook likewise threaten a range of other rights, including freedom expression and the right to equality and non-discrimination, the group said. The report said the company’s practice of vacuuming up personal data in order to feed voracious advertising businesses represents an unprecedented assault on privacy rights. It says the companies force people to make a “Faustian bargain” to share their data in order to access Google and Facebook services that have grown to dominate the global public square. “This ubiquitous surveillance has undermined the very essence of the right to privacy,” the report said, adding that the companies’ “use of algorithmic systems to create and infer detailed profiles on people interferes with our ability to shape our own identities within a private sphere.” Amnesty called on governments to legally guarantee people’s right not to be tracked by advertisers or other third parties. It called current regulations — and the companies’ own privacy-shielding measures — inadequate. In a written five-page response published with the report, Facebook disagreed with its conclusion that the company’s business practices “are inconsistent with human rights principles.” Steve Satterfield, Facebook’s public policy director, also disputed that the social media behemoth’s business model is “surveillance-based” and noted that users sign up voluntarily for the service, which is nominally free although data collected is used to sell ads. “A person’s choice to use Facebook’s services, and the way we collect, receive or use data — all clearly disclosed and acknowledged by users — cannot meaningfully be likened to the involuntary (and often unlawful) government surveillance” described in international human rights law, the letter states. Google did not offer an on-the-record response to the report but disputed its findings. Amnesty said the company provided input and publicly available documents.
  • FedEx says it’s investigating after a Los Angeles couple said a package flung over a fence into their yard injured their dog so badly he had to be euthanized. Keiko Napier and Mitchell Galin tell KCBS-TV that their 4-pound Yorkshire terrier, Cooper, was sunbathing in their Venice backyard Saturday when a FedEx driver tossed the package, which contained crystal and a Christmas present. Galin says the heavy package landed on the dog, leaving him in a puddle of blood. The animal had lung and liver damage and the couple chose to euthanize him. FedEx says it will investigate and take appropriate action. Napier says her grandchild and mother sometimes use the yard and the package could have struck and injured them. She wants FedEx to ban drivers from throwing packages.
  • Congress has approved two bills aimed at supporting human rights in Hong Kong following months of unrest in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. The House overwhelmingly approved the bills Wednesday, a day after the Senate passed them on voice votes. The bills now go to the White House for President Donald Trump’s signature, and the White House signaled that he would sign the human rights measure. China has threatened to take unspecified, “strong countermeasures” if the bills are signed into law. Passage of the Hong Kong bills is widely seen as complicating the path to a major trade deal between the U.S. and China. Stocks closed broadly lower on Wall Street Wednesday as investors turned anxious about the possibility that a deal may not be reached before next year. The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act mandates sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who carry out human rights abuses and requires an annual review of the favorable trade status that Washington grants Hong Kong. Another bill prohibits export to Hong Kong police of certain nonlethal 'munitions,' including tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, water cannons, stun guns and tasers. The munitions bill was passed unanimously, while Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky was the sole House member to oppose the human rights bill. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., hailed passage of the human rights bill, which closely mirrors a bill that House members approved last month. “Freedom is declining in Hong Kong at a rapid pace. China is taking aggressive action to impose total control through surveillance, political pressure, and, as we saw this weekend, brute force,’’ McCarthy said. Hong Kong schools reopened Wednesday after a six-day shutdown, but students and commuters faced transit disruptions as the last anti-government protesters remained holed up on a university campus, surrounded by police. “The United States cannot and will not allow China to reap the rewards of a free society so long as it categorically suppresses one,’’ McCarthy said. The strong votes in both the House and Senate “send a clear message that the United States stands with the people of Hong Kong and will punish further aggression by China,” McCarthy said. Rep. Steny of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, urged President Donald Trump to sign the legislation “and send a strong message that democracy in Hong Kong must be preserved.’’ Hong Kong residents must be allowed freedom of expression, freedom of speech and peaceful protest, Hoyer said, as well as “freedom from the fear of being deported to mainland China by a government in Beijing whose track record on human rights is abysmal.’’
  • Google is making it harder for political advertisers to target specific types of people. The company said that as of January, advertisers will only be able to target U.S. political ads based on broad categories such as gender, age and postal code. Currently, ads can be tailored for more specific groups — for instance, using information gleaned from public voter logs, such as political affiliation. The change will take effect in the UK in the next week, before the general election, and in the European Union before the end of 2019. It will apply everywhere else in early January. Google reiterated that ads making false claims are prohibited, adding that so-called deepfakes — realistic but false video clips — are not allowed. Neither are “demonstrably false” claims that could affect voter trust in an election. But in a blog post announcing the news, Google Ads vice president Scott Spencer noted that political dialogue is important and “no one can sensibly adjudicate every political claim, counterclaim and insinuation.” “So we expect that the number of political ads on which we take action will be very limited — but we will continue to do so for clear violations,” he wrote. Like all Google ads, political advertisers can also use the broader practice of “contextual targeting,” which involves placing ads about, say, climate change on articles about the environment. The company is also requiring advertiser verification for a broader range of political messages. Previously, only ads mentioning candidates or officeholders for federal positions required verification. Now that will also include ads touching on state officials and candidates as well as ballot measures. The move follows Twitter’s ban on political ads, which goes into effect on Friday. Twitter also placed restrictions on ads related to social causes such as climate change or abortion. In these instances, advertisers won’t be able to target those ads down to a user’s ZIP code or use political categories such as “conservative” or “liberal.” Rather, targeting must be kept broad, based on a user’s state or province, for instance. Facebook has not made sweeping changes to any of its ads policies, but thrust the issue into public discussion this fall when it confirmed it would not remove false or misleading ads by politicians. Critics have harshly condemned Facebook’s decision. Twitter also faced a backlash from those who found its ban too far-reaching. Google has taken a more middling stance, but it’s unlikely to please everyone. Earlier Wednesday, President Donald Trump’s campaign staff took issue with reports that Facebook might consider limiting its targeting practices. “Facebook wants to take important tools away from us for 2020,” the campaign tweeted from its official account. “Tools that help us reach more great Americans & lift voices the media & big tech choose to ignore!” Even Google’s limited targeting could receive backlash. Critics and civil rights groups have said targeting specific zip codes or other small geographic zones can allow advertisers to discriminate or sway elections. The expansion to Google’s verification process will take effect December 3. __ AP Writer Barbara Ortutay contributed to this report.
  • Gordan Sondland couldn’t always get President Donald Trump on the phone. Trump now says he barely knows the guy. But for a time, when they did talk, they spoke in naughty words and explicitly discussed pressuring Ukraine to announce investigations. Was there a quid pro quo? “Yes,” Sondland, the central figure in the House’s impeachment inquiry, told the world in his testimony Wednesday. What’s more, Sondland said repeatedly, “Everyone was in the loop.” With that, the president’s “Gordon problem” became a bombshell that sprayed the president, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, current and former national security leaders and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani amid the House’s drive to impeach the 45th president. Sondland’s sworn testimony in public and private left some questions unanswered, but he was crystal clear about one thing: If he’s going to be blamed for what happened in Ukraine, he’s not going quietly. “It wasn’t a secret,” Sondland said of the president’s push to get Ukraine to announce it was investigating the 2016 U.S. election and a gas company linked to Joe Biden. “The leadership at the State Department, the National Security Council and the White House were all informed about the Ukraine efforts.” It was a notable case of transactional Washington relationships going bust under the pressure of scandal. 'I don't know him very well. I have not spoken to him much. This is not a man I know well,” Trump told reporters at the White House. Sondland has served as ambassador since July 2018. Trump did recall one thing, though, about Sondland: The Oregon hotelier supported other Republicans for president before he donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee and became a “VVIP” for the events. “He actually supported other candidates. Not me. He came in late,” Trump said, as Sondland’s testimony stretched across seven hours. Back on Capitol Hill, Sondland confirmed that the two are not tight. “It really depends on what you mean by ‘know well,’” Sondland said. “We are not close friends, no. We have a professional, cordial working relationship.” Still true or not, Sondland revealed some of the ways their relationship worked amid Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine. Trump, he noted, was sometimes in a “bad mood.” The president at times told him to “talk to Rudy” about Ukraine. Ultimately, Sondland told a State Department official, the president didn’t really care about Ukraine or the millions of dollars in military aid that were being withheld from the U.S. ally on the border with Russia. He cared about a discredited theory that Ukraine, and not Russia, meddled in the 2016 presidential election. “Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelenskiy,” Sondland said. Knowing that resistance was futile, Sondland, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and then-special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker worked with Giuliani to pressure Ukraine “at the express direction of the president of the United States.” On June 26, Sondland called Trump from his cell phone from a restaurant in Kyiv. According to the testimony of other witnesses, Sondland held the phone out for others to hear. Yes, he reassured Trump, the Ukrainian president was willing to do what the U.S. president asked. “Putting it in Trump-speak by saying ‘he loves your ass, he'll do whatever you want,’ meant that he would really work with us on a whole host of issues,” Sondland testified. At another point, Sondland said, “That's how President Trump and I communicate, a lot of four-letter words; in this case three letter.” It was one of as many as 20 times Sondland said he has spoken with Trump by telephone. Perhaps a half-dozen of those were about Ukraine, Sondland testified Wednesday. He and other witnesses said that they did not know at the time that Trump’s demand to investigate Ukrainian gas company Burisma also meant investigating Biden’s son Hunter, who sits on the board. On one of those times, Sept. 9, Sondland said he picked up the phone and called Trump for what turned out to be a “very short, abrupt conversation.” “I said, ‘What do you want from Ukraine?’” Sondland recalled. “He was not in a good mood. And he just said, ‘I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelenskiy to do the right thing.’” Sondland also was asked about an account in which presidential adviser Fiona Hill challenged him on his claim to be the one running Ukraine policy. When she asked who said so, he replied, “The president,” she testified in closed session. Actually, Sondland said, it wasn’t Trump who gave him the assignment. Rather, then-national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney signed off. “So, by extension, yes, if the national security adviser and the chief of staff approve your remit, it really is coming from the president,” Sondland said. Hill is scheduled to testify publicly Thursday. As Hill navigated Sondland’s moves, she at one point referred to the shadow Ukraine policy as Trump’s “Gordon problem,” according to a colleague. “That's what my wife calls me. Maybe they’re talking,” Sondland quipped during the hearing. “Should I be worried?” ___ Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman
  • Known for dating models and actresses, Prince Andrew earned a nickname as the “party prince.” But as charities and businesses sought distance from the scandal-tainted royal, some tabloids recently dubbed him the “pariah prince.” Queen Elizabeth II’s second son announced Wednesday that he would step back from public duties because of his ties to American sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, saying the relationship had become a “major disruption” to the royal family’s charitable work. It was another black mark against the prince, who was born without the responsibilities of his older brother, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne. Andrew instead carved out a comfortable role as a trade envoy and charity patron with freedom to travel the world in style. There were few checks on his behavior. He was ultimately brought down not only by his close association with Epstein, but also by his seemingly arrogant conduct during a TV interview in which he tried to settle questions about the relationship. It was a moment of moral blindness: In the #MeToo era, Andrew said his friendship with Epstein had been “honorable” and never once mentioned the underage girls Epstein had trafficked and sexually exploited and sometimes used as little more than party favors for powerful men. Andrew’s life has always been privileged: He was born in Buckingham Palace, the first child born to a reigning monarch in more than a century. His mother, whose reign is the longest in British history, has been queen his entire life. He did not, however, use his position to shun combat, flying successful missions during the Falklands War in which Britain, in what some see as the last gasp of empire, reclaimed the contested islands from Argentina. Andrew has been in trouble before. He was forced to step down from an unpaid position as an international trade representative for Britain in 2011, in part because of his relationship with Epstein but also because of other questionable associations and complaints about his lavish travel arrangements. As a young man in the early 1980s, he was often photographed squiring models and actresses to fancy events, and he briefly dated Koo Stark, an American actress who had appeared in several racy movies. Their trip to the exclusive Caribbean island of Mustique drew worldwide attention. The romance ended the next year, but it seemed to boost Andrew’s image as a sophisticated man of the world. He embraced domestic life a few years later, marrying Sarah Ferguson in 1986 in an elaborate ceremony at Westminster Abbey. The young couple received a grand title befitting a grand event, becoming on that day the Duke and Duchess of York. They had two girls — Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie — but the marriage ended in divorce. There were a few embarrassing episodes along the way, including the time when Ferguson was photographed cavorting topless with an American suitor. But the parting was relatively amicable, and they remain close friends. Ferguson has defended Andrew in recent days, tweeting that “Andrew is a true + real gentleman and is stoically steadfast to not only his duty but also his kindness + goodness.” It was not clear whether the change in the prince’s duties was a temporary or permanent shift, or what might be next for Andrew.