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Israeli police question Netanyahu over telecom case

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Israeli police questioned Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife as part of an investigation into a corruption case involving the country’s telecom giant on Friday, casting a shadow on the prime minister’s upcoming visit to Washington.

Police investigators entered Netanyahu’s residence Friday morning. An Associated Press cameraman saw them leave about five hours later.

Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, was questioned at another location at the same time as the prime minister.

Police later issued a statement saying the couple “were questioned for a number of hours as part of an investigation” by police and the Israel Securities Authority.

Last month, two Netanyahu confidants were arrested on suspicion of promoting regulation worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the Bezeq telecom company. In return, Bezeq’s news site, Walla, allegedly provided positive Netanyahu coverage.

It’s the first time that Netanyahu, who as prime minister also held the communications portfolio until last year, is being questioned over the affair, known as Case 4000.

The development comes ahead of Netanyahu’s visit to Washington where he is to meet with President Donald Trump and speak before the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC next week.

Police have recommended indicting Netanyahu on corruption charges in two other cases.

Netanyahu is accused of accepting nearly $300,000 in lavish gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. In return, police say Netanyahu operated on Milchan’s behalf on U.S. visa matters, legislated a tax break and connected him with an Indian businessman.

In the other case, Netanyahu is accused of offering a newspaper publisher legislation that would weaken his paper’s main rival in return for more favorable coverage. Netanyahu reportedly was recorded asking Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Yediot Ahronot, for positive coverage in exchange for helping to weaken Israel Hayom, a free pro-Netanyahu newspaper that had cut into Yediot’s business.

Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and has dismissed the accusations as a witch hunt orchestrated by a hostile media.

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Facebook playing defense after WSJ reports on failure to protect users

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Facebook Chief Executive Officer and founder, Mark Zuckerberg, leaving the Merrion Hotel in Dublin after meeting with Irish politicians to discuss regulation of social media, transparrency in political advertising and the safety of young people and vulnerable adults. On Tuesday, April 2, 2019, in Dublin, Ireland.

Artur Widak | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Facebook spent the weekend on the defensive after a series of stories in The Wall Street Journal last week exposed just how far the company has gone to prioritize profits over the health and safety of its billions of users.

It’s a familiar pattern to those who have followed the social-networking giant over the past few years. Troubling anecdotes about Facebook and the behavior of its leaders get published by a major news outlet, followed by a firestorm of criticism and threats by lawmakers to regulate the company and to call top executives before Congress.

Then Facebook half-heartedly apologizes but not before taking swipes at the accuracy of the reporting and blaming the leakers who, in this case, were company employees. On Saturday, following the in-depth series from the Journal, Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, put out a blog post titled, “What the Wall Street Journal got wrong — about Facebook.”

The Journal’s investigation showed how Facebook has repeatedly failed to properly address crucial problems highlighted in internal studies conducted by the company’s own employees, such as how the most divisive content surfaces in so many news feeds because of its high engagement. The reports come two months after President Joe Biden said Facebook is “killing people” with misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines and after the company struggled to find a consistent message for dealing with false information about the 2020 election.

The problems highlighted by the Journal were consistent with what Facebook critics have been saying for a long time: Executives are consumed with revenue growth and engagement.

One of the stories said that CEO Mark Zuckerberg was given a recommendation by an employee about a change the company could make to reduce the algorithmic boost given to harmful content that captured eyeballs and outsized attention. Zuckerberg responded by telling the employee he’d reject the proposal if it materially impacted users’ interactions with one another, according to the report.

In a separate piece, the Journal outlined how Facebook has ignored or brushed over the mental health problems caused by Instagram, particularly for teenage girls. Facebook knew about the issues because the conclusions were drawn from its own research. Not only has the company failed to make improvements, but it’s now planning a version of Instagram for kids under 13.

One thing Facebook tested as a potential fix on Instagram was hiding likes. After experimenting with the idea, Facebook found it didn’t improve anything. Yet the company decided to roll out hiding likes as an option for users because it “would be received by press and parents as a strong positive indication that Instagram cares about its users,” Facebook executives wrote, according to the report.

Another Journal report found that Facebook rarely addresses problems in markets outside the U.S. because it doesn’t have enough people who speak the local languages or dialects needed to identify the issues. Thus, there are places where the site is overrun by anti-vaccine misinformation and other lies and conspiracy theories.

For a company that’s worth $1 trillion and generated $86 billion in revenue last year and almost $30 billion in profit, an inability to hire the right experts is a poor excuse.

Facebook defended itself as it often does. The company accused the Journal of mischaracterizing its actions and for implying egregiously false motives on the part of its leaders and employees.

“Facebook understands the significant responsibility that comes with operating a global platform,” Clegg wrote in the post responding to the series. “We take it seriously, and we don’t shy away from scrutiny and criticism. But we fundamentally reject this mischaracterization of our work and impugning of the company’s motives.”

However, Clegg didn’t refute any specific facts reported by the Journal, as the paper’s own reporters have noted. And if the past is any indication, we shouldn’t expect any dramatic changes from Facebook, as long as investors keep buying the stock and regulators fail to act.

A Facebook representative didn’t have a comment beyond the blog post, but said, “we’ve also been working with WSJ reporters to make sure our responses are included in the series.”

WATCH: Facebook facing congressional probe on impact on teens and children



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Stock futures are flat following the S&P 500’s worst day since May, Fed meeting ahead

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U.S. stock futures were about flat in overnight trading on Monday following a major sell-off on Wall Street that resulted in the S&P 500’s worst day since May.

Dow Jones futures rose just 12 points. S&P 500 futures and Nasdaq 100 futures were about flat.

The major averages tumbled on Monday due to a confluence of concerns including the imminent Federal Reserve meeting, the lingering delta variant, potential economic disruption in China and the debt ceiling deadline.

However, stocks closed well off their lows of the day.

The S&P 500 slid 1.7% for its worst day since May 12 of this year. At it’s low of the day, the 500-stock average pulled back 5% on an intraday basis from its high. It currently sits 4.1% from its record.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 614 points, or 1.8%, for its biggest one-day drop since July 19. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 2.2% as growth pockets of the market were some of the hardest hit.

The Federal Reserve begins its two-day policy meeting on Tuesday and investors are looking for more information from Chairman Jerome Powell about the central bank’s plans to taper its bond buying, specifically when that will happen. Powell said last month that he sees the Fed slowing its $120 billion in monthly purchases at some point this year.

The Fed releases its quarterly economic forecasts, the so-called dot plot, along with the statement on interest rates at 2 p.m. ET Wednesday. Powell will have a a press conference after.

We’re going to have to see proof that the Fed dot plots don’t come out in a way that spooks the market,” said said Yung-Yu Ma, chief investment strategist at BMO Wealth Management.

Weakness in China’s equity market reverberated into U.S. stocks on Monday. The benchmark Hang Seng index plunged 4% with as struggling real estate developer China Evergrande Group teeters on the brink of default.

“We’re going to have to see some proof that the Chinese government is taking steps to manage this,” added Ma.

The Delta variant remains a global health threat as the colder months approach and vaccination hesitancy persists among some Americans.

Stocks linked to global growth led losses on Monday and energy names took a hit thanks to a 2% drop in U.S. oil prices. Banks stops dropped as bond yields fell.

The Cboe Volatility index, Wall Street’s fear gauge, jumped above the 26 level on Monday, the highest since May.

Investors are also concerned about the deadline to raise the debt ceiling and possible tax increases. Congress returned to Washington from recess rushing to pass funding bills to avoid a government shutdown.

September is a historically volatile month for stocks and after the S&P 500’s 16% rally year-to-date, many investors have said the market is due for a pullback. Some strategists called Monday’s sell-off a buying opportunity.

“The market sell-off that escalated overnight we believe is primarily driven by technical selling flows ([commodity trading advisors] and option hedgers) in an environment of poor liquidity, and overreaction of discretionary traders to perceived risks,” Marko Kolanovic, JPMorgan chief global market strategist, said in a note Monday.

While others said volatility is likely to persist until some of the risks are resolved.

“We’re not in the camp that this small pullback represents a special buying opportunity,” said Ma. “There could easily be more volatility depending on what happens with the Fed meeting…similar with the debt ceiling. With the overhang and then negotiations, this is definitely going to be pushed to the wire.”

Cryptocurrencies also pulled back on Monday with bitcoin ending the day about 7% lower. The slide resurfaced the debate about whether bitcoin can or should serve as a safe-haven asset.

FedEx, Adobe, AutoZone and Stich Fix report quarterly earnings on Tuesday.

— with reporting from CNBC’s Hannah Miao.

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85 Americans have left Afghanistan since U.S. completed its withdrawal

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Afghan passengers are pictured in-front of a Qatar Airways airplane at Kabul International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan September 19, 2021.

Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affa | via Reuters

WASHINGTON – A commercial flight carrying 21 Americans and 48 lawful permanent U.S. residents departed Kabul, Afghanistan over the weekend, the State Department confirmed on Monday.

In total, at least 85 American citizens and 79 lawful permanent residents have left Afghanistan since the U.S. ended a massive humanitarian evacuation and completed the withdrawal of its troops in August, according to State Department figures.

“We are thankful to Qatari authorities, who continue to coordinate these flights with the Taliban,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday. The Biden administration is still working to help American citizens, lawful permanent residents and vulnerable Afghans leave, Price added.

The Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan last month prompted a chaotic effort by the U.S. and its allies to get their citizens and vulnerable Afghans out of the country. By Aug. 31, approximately 125,000 people, including about 6,000 U.S. citizens and their families, were evacuated out of the country.

However, not everyone was able to make it out in time. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers last week that approximately 100 U.S. citizens are still seeking evacuation from Afghanistan.

Blinken blamed the Trump administration for America’s chaotic exit from its longest war saying: “We inherited a deadline; we did not inherit a plan.”

“There had not been a single interview in the Special Immigrant Visa program in Kabul for nine months, going back to March of 2020. The program was basically in a stall,” Blinken said on Sept. 13.

“We made the right decision in ending America’s longest war, we made the right decision in not sending a third generation of Americans to fight and die in Afghanistan,” Blinken said.

President Joe Biden has defended his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, despite the Taliban takeover. Biden was forced to order the temporary deployment of thousands of U.S. troops to Kabul in order to help with evacuation efforts last month.

Thirteen U.S. service members and dozens of Afghans died in an ISIS-K suicide bombing at Kabul’s airport during the evacuation. A subsequent U.S. drone strike in Kabul killed as many as 10 civilians in what the Pentagon has described as a tragic mistake.

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