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BJP, Congress parties field ‘criminal candidates’

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In this photo taken on April 21, 2019 Indian supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hold portraits of party candidate K. Surendran during the final day of election campaigning in the city of Pathanamthitta, in the south Indian state of Kerala.

Arun Sankar | AFP | Getty Images

India‘s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has one unwanted lead in this month’s general election race — according to data from an electoral watchdog it is fielding the most candidates among the major parties who are facing criminal charges. Its main rival, Congress, is just a step behind.

Election laws allow such candidates to run so long as they have not been convicted, on grounds both of fairness and because India’s criminal justice system moves so slowly that trials can take years, or even decades, to be resolved.

Still, the number of such candidates accused of offences ranging from murder to rioting has been rising with each election.

Analysts say political parties turn to them because they often have the deepest pockets in steadily costlier elections, and that some local strongmen are seen as having the best chance of winning.

Nearly one-in-five candidates running for parliament in the current election has an outstanding criminal case against them, inching up from 17% in the previous election and 15% in 2009, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a non-profit organisation that analysed candidates’ declarations.

The data shows that 40% candidates from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP face criminal charges, including crimes against women and murder, followed by the Congress party at 39%.

Among the smaller parties, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has an even higher proportion, with 58% of its candidates embroiled in criminal cases.

Polls have suggested that the BJP and its allies lead the race to win the mammoth, staggered election that began last month and ends on Sunday. Votes will be counted on Thursday.

“Parties only think about winnability and they know that money power and muscle power of such candidates ensures that win,” said Anil Verma, head of the ADR.

With 240 cases against him, K Surendran of the BJP tops the list of candidates with the most outstanding criminal complaints that include rioting, criminal trespass and attempted murder.

He said most of the cases stem from his involvement in the BJP campaign to oppose the entry of women and girls of menstruating age into the Sabarimala temple in his home state of Kerala.

“I understand that an outsider might feel that I am a grave offender but, in reality, I am completely innocent of these charges,” he said. “It was all politically motivated.”

Dean Kuriakose from the Congress party has 204 criminal cases against him, the second highest, the data showed. Most of the cases were related to a political agitation against the ruling Communist Party in Kerala, which turned violent.

He was not available for comment. But a party spokesman said Kuriakose was innocent. “He was falsely charged by the police under influence from Kerala government,” the spokesman said.

Political analysts say that often people vote for candidates who face criminal charges because they are seen as best placed to deliver results. In some parts of India local strongmen mediate in disputes and dispense justice.

“Powerful people, even if criminals, offer a kind of parallel system of redressal,” said K.C. Suri, a professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad.

A separate ADR survey of more than 250,000 voters last year found 98% felt candidates with criminal backgrounds should not be in parliament, though 35% said they were willing to vote for such a candidate on caste grounds or if the candidate had done “good work” in the past.

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WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange charged with 17 new criminal counts

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures from the window of a prison van as he is driven out of Southwark Crown Court in London on May 1, 2019, after having been sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for breaching his bail conditions in 2012.

Daniel Leal-Olivas | AFP | Getty Images

Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange on Thursday was hit with new federal criminal charges alleging he published secret documents obtained by former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, some of which included the disclosure of foreigners who were aiding the U.S. military abroad.

Assange was charged with 17 new criminal counts, which included violations of the Espionage Act.

The charges, contained in an indictment issued in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, were revealed during a press conference held by Department of Justice officials in Washington.

Assange is currently in British custody after having been expelled from Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he had lived for nearly seven years.

Julian Assange was “complicit” and “conspired with” Manning, an official said.

Officials said that Assange’s publication of the names of human sources in the Middle East “is alleged to have created imminent risks to the life and liberty” of those individuals.

Assange, the officials said, “knew the publication of these sources endangered them.”

The information could be seen by terror groups and countries hostile to the United States, and “documents related to this material was even found in the Osama bin Laden compound,” an official said.

Some press freedom groups have protested Assange’s treatment, arguing that his conduct constituted journalism and should not be punished.

“This strikes at the heart of the First Amendment and puts all journalists in extreme danger,” The Freedom of the Press Foundation said in a tweet Thursday afternoon.

But an official pushed back on that characterization.

“Assange is not a journalist,” the official told reporters. “No responsible actor, journalist or otherwise, would purposely publish names he or she knew to be confidential sources in warzones.”

A lawyer for Assange did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the superseding indictment.

Manning, meanwhile, is currently in jail for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury.

Asked if she had changed her stance, an official said: “Ms. Manning remains in jail.”

Assange was arrested on April 7 in London on a U.S.-lodged charge of conspiring to hack a U.S. government computer in 2010.

In that case, he was alleged to have conspired with Manning to crack passwords on government computers and to download large amounts of classified information with the intent on publishing them on WikiLeaks.

Those documents allegedly included approximately 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, a quarter-million State Department cables and 400,000 Iraq War-related reports.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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Facebook fake account takedowns doubled Q4 2018 vs Q1 2019

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Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., speaks during a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, April 10, 2018.

Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Facebook has stepped up its fight against fake accounts.

On Thursday, in its third periodic Community Standards Enforcement Report, the company said it took action on nearly twice as many suspected fake accounts in the first quarter of 2019 as it did in the fourth quarter of 2018.

The uptick was due to “automated attacks by bad actors who attempt to create large volumes of accounts at one time,” the company said.

On a call discussing the report, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg responded to calls to break up his company through antitrust, saying it would hurt Facebook’s efforts to combat fake news and other content that violates its policies.

“The amount of our budget that goes toward our safety systems is greater than Twitter’s whole revenue this year,” said Zuckerberg on a call on Thursday. “We’re able to do things that I think are just not possible for other folks to do.”

Specifically, Facebook disabled 2.19 billion accounts in the first quarter of 2019 compared to 1.2 billion accounts in the fourth quarter of 2018.

That’s a huge number of accounts considering Facebook reported 2.38 billion monthly active users (MAUs) in its first quarter of 2019. A Facebook spokesperson said the number of accounts it disabled is not included in its MAU figure since the obvious fakes tend to be removed fairly quickly. Still, Facebook estimated that about 5% of the accounts counted in monthly active users are fake.

The latest report comes after Facebook in March announced a pivot to privacy that will eventually shift more of users’ communications to private, encrypted channels via the chat functions of Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp. Zuckerberg on Thursday said that this pivot will make it harder for Facebook to find and remove the type of content covered in the Thursday report.

“We’ll be fighting that battle without one of the very important tools, which is of course being able to look at the content itself,” Zuckerberg said. “It’s not clear on a lot of these fronts that we’re going to be able to do as good of a job on identifying harmful content as we can today.”

Facebook launched the first edition of the report in May 2018 on the heels of the Cambridge Analytica scandal that rocked users’ and investors’ confidence in the company’s ability to enforce its policies. In an effort to promote transparency, Facebook uses the reports to share information about how it responds to false, violent and graphic information on its platform.

Facebook also shared data about illicit sales of drugs and firearms on its platform for the first time in Thursday’s report.

Facebook said it proactively detected and took action on 83% of 900,000 pieces of drug sale content in the first quarter of 2019. That was up from 77% the previous quarter. (The remaining content in the total count was flagged by users.)

Similarly, Facebook said it proactively detected and took action on 69% of the 670,000 pieces of firearm sale content during the first quarter, compared to 65% the previous quarter.

The company also began including information about appeals and corrections to content removal. Facebook and other social media companies have been criticized by lawmakers, particularly on the right, for being biased against political conservatives.

In the latest edition of the report, Facebook disclosed for the first time the number of pieces of content appealed and restored across various policy areas including spam, hate speech, nudity and terrorism. Of 1.1 million pieces of content appealed under “Hate Speech” in Q1 of 2019, for example, Facebook said 152,000 pieces were restored.

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Wall Street is becoming convinced the trade war is here to stay and will only get worse

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Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping.

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As stocks plunged Thursday, Wall Street inboxes were filled to the brim with predictions that the White House would go full throttle and slap tariffs on all Chinese goods, in an escalating and prolonged trade war that could begin to hit consumers and slow global growth.

The Dow lost more than 400 points at its lows Thursday, as both the U.S. and China appeared to dig in to their positions. No talks are now scheduled, and China’s Ministry of Commerce Thursday warned the U.S. to act with “sincerity” and change its “wrong actions.”

A number of firms released new reports warning the trade war was getting worse including economists and strategists from Nomura, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America.

“I still think the risk is a full-blown trade war and it’s beginning to look increasingly like one,” said Ed Keon, chief investment strategist at QMA.

Energy led the market lower, but tech names were hit hard, with the S&P technology sector losing more than 3.3%. Tech names are in the cross hairs of the trade war as the U.S. also seeks to thwart Chinese acquisition of U.S. intellectual property. It has also blacklisted China telecom firm Huawei, preventing it from buying U.S. components. The VanEck Vector Semiconductor ETF SMH was down 2.5%, and is now down nearly 15% for the month of May.

Moving into cash

Keon said if the trade war escalates, it could push the stock market into a correction of as much as 10% or more. He has moved more assets into cash and has a larger position in Treasury futures, as he awaits a more certain outcome.

The U.S. moved forward May 10 with raising tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods to 25% from 10%, and President Donald Trump has said there could be tariffs on the roughly $300 billion in Chinese exports that do not yet have tariffs. Many of those goods go directly to consumers.

“We now think it is more likely than not that the Trump administration will move ahead with the final tranche of tariffs targeting roughly $300bn in imports from China at a 25% rate. Our baseline scenario assumes that the new tariffs go into effect at some point before end-2019, most likely in Q3 after a meeting between Presidents Trump and Xi at the G-20 in late June,” wrote Nomura chief U.S. economist Lewis Alexander.

Alexander said there could be a short-term truce following the G-20 meeting, talks could breakdown later in the year, resulting in more tariffs. “Without a clear way forward during an intensifying 2020 US presidential election, we see a rising risk that tariffs will remain in effect through end-2020,” he wrote.

Bank of America fixed income strategists, in a note, said the trade war is turning out to be worse than they expected. They sliced their forecast for the 10-year Treasury yield to 2.6% at year end, from a previous 3% based on trade war impacts and the easier policy of global central bankers, who are responding to slower growth, low inflation and concerns about financial conditions. The U.S. 10-year yield sank to 2.30% Thursday, the lowest level since November, 2017. Yields move opposite price.

“Following the latest tariff developments, our year ahead numbers imply a best case scenario for a resolution of the US-China trade dispute, which seems unrealistic. We cut our forecasts,” the Bank of America strategists wrote.

Goldman’s view

Over at Goldman Sachs, economists late Wednesday say they are still hoping for a trade deal, but if there is no deal, the hit to the U.S. and Chinese economies would be greater and inflation would rise.

“While we still think an agreement is more likely than not, it has become a close call and without additional signs of progress over the next few weeks, implementation of the next round of tariffs on $300 billion of imports from China could easily become the base case,” wrote Goldman Sachs economists.

The economists estimates that a further trade war escalation with an across-the-board 25% tariff on all imports from China would boost US core PCE inflation by 0.6 percentage points, compared with a 0.2 percentage point boost now.

“Our model says that an across-the-board 25% tariff on China with a limited amount of retaliation would hit US GDP by 0.5% and Chinese GDP by 0.8%, all over a three-year period,” the economists wrote.

The sell-off in stocks deepened Thursday, and bond prices rose as fresh data PMI data showed a slowdown in services and manufacturing activity in the U.S. and Europe. The U.S. PMI data showed the softest rise in new business since the series began in October 2009.

Keon said the views on Wall Street have been becoming more gloomy about the trade war, but he still believes the consensus expects a deal.

“At some point the fears will get fully reflected in the consensus, and at that point, the selling will have run its course. I still think there’s a fair amount of complacency about the possibility that something will get worked out, and both sides will pull back from the brink,” Keon said. “If it doesn’t get worked out, the market has more downside.”

CFRA analysts warned that the market may be too complacent about the trade talks. “The standstill began three weeks ago and discussions have ceased. There is an increasing chance for the situation to last longer and possibly escalate further,” the analysts wrote. They do not see a significant impact of the higher tariffs, now at 25% , if left in place for the balance of the year.

Second half earnings

But the firm does see downside risk to second half earnings outlooks, given the fact that the increase in tariffs to 25% from 10% on $200 billion Chinese went into affect after most companies reported first quarter earnings and gave their outlooks. They also noted that retailers like Walmart and Macy’s plan to pass along price increases to consumers, to protect their margins.

CFRA said it is cautious on the market now. “We continue to like equities but prefer exposure to defensive and more value-oriented sectors over their growth counterparts right now,” the analysts wrote.

Keon said there are collateral risks as the U.S. and China find new outlets for their battle.

“It’s morphing into a more complex multi-faceted trade war,” he said, adding China could decide to make it difficult for the U.S. to acquire the rare earth minerals it mines. Those minerals are used in electronic equipment, and China is the biggest supplier.

“Each side is looking for where they have pressure points that give them leverage. We have a complicated relationship together so both sides have pressure points,” he said.

Technology is the latest battleground with the Huawei move by the U.S., and there are rising concerns that China will take aim at Apple, either with a consumer boycott or some regulatory move.

“Given the pressure we’re putting on their tech companies, it will end up hurting ours as well, through the supply chain. It’s a complicated situation. Until we get some clarity, tech may well be negatively affected,” said Keon.

The International Monetary Fund warned Thursday weighed in on the trade war, saying that U.S. importers have borne the brunt of the tariffs.

“While the impact on global growth is relatively modest at this time, the latest escalation could significantly dent business and financial market sentiment, disrupt global supply chains, and jeopardize the projected recovery in global growth in 2019,” the IMF said. Tariffs on additional goods would hurt consumers in both the U.S. and China, it said.

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