Nation and World briefs for December 15

Stocks plunge to 8-month lows on growth fears

NEW YORK — Stocks staggered to eight-month lows Friday after weak economic data from China and Europe set off more worries about the global economy. Mounting tensions in Europe over Britain’s impending departure from the European Union also darkened traders’ moods.

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Major U.S. indexes fell about 2 percent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped as much as 563 points. On the benchmark S&P 500 index, health care and technology companies absorbed the worst losses.

Johnson & Johnson plunged by the most in 16 years after Reuters reported that the company has known since the 1970s that its talc Baby Powder sometimes contained carcinogenic asbestos. The company denied the report.

China said industrial output and retail sales both slowed in November. That could be another sign that China’s trade dispute with the U.S. and tighter lending conditions are chilling its economy, which is the second-largest in the world. Meanwhile, purchasing managers in Europe signaled that economic growth was slipping.

Sameer Samana, senior global market strategist for Wells Fargo Investment Institute, said investors are concerned that weakness will make it way to the U.S. They’re wondering if the U.S. economy is likely to run out of steam sooner than they had thought.

Trump picks Mulvaney to be next chief of staff

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday picked budget director Mick Mulvaney to be his next chief of staff, ending a chaotic search for a new chief of staff that had been inching forward with the feel of an unfolding reality TV show.

Trump tweeted that Mulvaney “will be named Acting White House Chief of Staff, replacing General John Kelly, who has served our Country with distinction.”

“Mick has done an outstanding job while in the Administration,” Trump posted. “I look forward to working with him in this new capacity as we continue to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! John will be staying until the end of the year. He is a GREAT PATRIOT and I want to personally thank him for his service!”

Though deemed an “acting” chief of staff, Mulvaney’s term will be open-ended, according to a senior White House official speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters. The position does not require confirmation.

Mulvaney, who will be Trump’s third chief of staff, will now take on his third job in the administration; he is the head of the Office of Management and had simultaneously led the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

US says 7-year-old who died in custody had not appeared ill

WASHINGTON — U.S. immigration officials on Friday defended their actions in the detention of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died two days after she and her father were taken into custody along a remote stretch of the U.S. border.

The girl, identified by a Guatemalan official as Jackeline Caal, had gone days without food and water, a Department of Homeland Security statement said. Yet immigration officials said she did not appear to be ill when detained.

A Border Patrol form completed shortly after she was stopped said she was not sweating, had no tremors or visible trauma and was mentally alert. “Claims good health,” the form reads. Jackeline’s father appeared to have signed the form, which was obtained by The Associated Press.

But, hours later, after Jackeline was placed on a bus, she started vomiting. She was not breathing when she arrived at a Border Patrol station. Emergency medical technicians revived her and she was flown to a hospital in El Paso, Texas, where she was found to have swelling in her brain and liver failure, officials said. She later died.

The agents speak Spanish, but the father and daughter were from an area in northern Guatemala called Raxruha in Alta Verapaz and may have spoken a Mayan dialect, not Spanish.

Bug might have exposed photos from 7M Facebook users

NEW YORK — Facebook’s privacy controls have broken down yet again, this time through a software flaw affecting nearly 7 million users who had photos exposed to a much wider audience than intended.

The bug disclosed Friday gave hundreds of apps unauthorized access to photos that could in theory include images that would embarrass some of the affected users. They also included photos people may have uploaded but hadn’t yet posted, perhaps because they had changed their mind.

It’s not yet known whether anyone actually saw the photos, but the revelation of the now-fixed problem served as another reminder of just how much data Facebook has on its 2.27 billion users, as well has how frequently these slipups are recurring.

The bug is the latest in a series of privacy lapses that continue to crop up, despite Facebook’s repeated pledges to batten down its hatches and do a better job preventing unauthorized access to the pictures, thoughts and other personal information its users intend so share only with friends and family.

In general, when people grant permission for a third-party app to access their photos, they are sharing all the photos on their Facebook page, regardless of privacy settings meant to limit a photo to small circles such as family. The bug potentially gave developers access to even more photos, such as those shared on separate Marketplace and Facebook Stories features, as well as photos that weren’t actually posted.

Macron urges calm, Paris police prepare for more violence

PARIS — French President Emanuel Macron called Friday for calm as authorities prepared to deploy armored vehicles and thousands of security forces for a possible fifth-straight weekend of violent protests on the streets of Paris.

The “yellow vest” movement, which began its demonstrations Nov. 17 initially to protest an increase in fuel taxes, soon morphed into an expression of rage about the high cost of living in France and a sense that Macron’s government is detached from the everyday struggles of workers.

“Our country needs calm. It needs order. It needs to function normally again,” Macron said in Brussels, where he attended a European Union summit.

Later, he traveled to Strasbourg to express his condolences in the eastern French city where a gunman killed four people and wounded a dozen more after opening fire Tuesday near a Christmas market. The suspected attacker was killed Thursday in a shootout with police. Macron thanked some of the hundreds of security forces that had helped in the Strasbourg manhunt.

Macron acknowledged in a speech earlier this week that he’s partially responsible for the anger displayed by the “yellow vest” protesters — whose movement takes its name from the safety garb that all French motorists must carry. He has announced measures aimed at improving workers’ spending power. But he has so far refused to reinstate a wealth tax that was lifted to spur investment in France.

Detentions raise fears, cast doubt on China’s policies

WASHINGTON — By detaining two Canadians in an apparent act of retaliation, China is looking like the country its harshest critics say it is: one unbound by the laws, rules and procedures that govern other major industrial nations.

Canada’s arrest of a top Chinese technology executive at the request of the United States has set off a diplomatic furor with Beijing.

And the way the countries have acted in the controversy draws a clear distinction between their political and legal systems — at a time when the United States, Canada and other advanced economies are rethinking the way they do business with China.

Canada gave Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou — daughter of the telecom giant’s founder — three days of public hearings before releasing her on bail to the cheers of members of Vancouver’s large Chinese community who came to court to show their support.

By contrast, the Chinese secretly detained two Canadians on vague suspicions of “engaging in activities that endanger the national security” of China. Beijing didn’t allow Canadian officials to see Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat in China, for four days. And it has yet to allow them access to detained entrepreneur Michael Spavor.

Mueller: FBI is not to blame for Flynn’s false statements

WASHINGTON — The special counsel’s office pushed back Friday at the suggestion that the FBI acted improperly in its interview of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, saying he agreed on his own to meet with federal agents and did not need a warning that it was against the law to lie to them.

The filing from special counsel Robert Mueller comes four days before Flynn gets sentenced on a charge of lying to the FBI about his conversations with the then-Russian ambassador to the United States. It responds to a sentencing memorandum filed earlier this week by Flynn’s lawyers that said the FBI did not warn him that it illegal to lie. It also suggested that agents discouraged him from having a lawyer present.

But prosecutors with Mueller’s office rejected those arguments.

They said Flynn had lied several times to White House officials about his dialogue with ambassador Sergey Kislyak and simply repeated those falsehoods when approached by the FBI on Jan. 24, 2017. They said Flynn agreed to meet with the FBI without a lawyer present and, unlike other defendants charged in Mueller’s investigation, had enough experience in government to understand the consequences of lying and “the importance of accurate information to decision making in areas of national security.”

“A sitting National Security Advisor, former head of an intelligence agency, retired Lieutenant General, and 33-year veteran of the armed forces knows he should not lie to federal agents,” Mueller’s prosecutors wrote. “He does not need to be warned it is a crime to lie to federal agents to know the importance of telling them the truth.”

Wisconsin’s Walker signs sweeping lame-duck GOP bills

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a sweeping package of Republican legislation Friday that restricts early voting and weakens the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general, brushing aside complaints that he is enabling a brazen power grab and ignoring the will of voters.

Signing the bills just 24 days before he leaves office, the Republican governor and one-time presidential candidate downplayed bipartisan criticism that they amount to a power grab that will stain his legacy.

Just two hours later, a group run by former Democratic U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced it planned legal action to block the limitation on early voting.

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Walker’s action Friday came as Michigan’s Rick Snyder, another Midwestern GOP governor soon to be replaced by a Democrat, signed legislation in a lame-duck session that significantly scales back minimum wage and paid sick leave laws that began as citizen initiatives. Michigan’s Republican legislators also are weighing legislation resembling Wisconsin’s that would strip or dilute the authority of incoming elected Democrats.

The push in both states mirrors tactics employed by North Carolina Republicans in 2016.

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