Why Google and Facebook folded on sex-trafficking bill - Axios
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Why Google and Facebook folded on sex-trafficking bill

Google pushed back particularly hard on the bill. Photo: Matt Rourke / AP

Silicon Valley folded in a fight over a major anti-trafficking bill after months of mounting pressure from both political parties. The industry forged a compromise with senators that, while better for tech than the original proposal, amounts to the first major legislative defeat for tech giants Google and Facebook.

Why it matters: Online platform companies initially dug in their heals when lawmakers first approached them about the proposal. The fact that they were forced to make a compromise signals a big change for Big Tech, which has enjoyed immense political power in Washington during the past decade but now faces significant new pressures on several fronts.

What the bill would do: The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) would reduce legal protections for platforms that host user-generated content, allowing trafficking victims to sue if platforms had knowingly facilitated the crime. Online platform companies initially argued the bill undermined their business model and could open the door to more legal liability for content on their sites.

But last week, the Internet Association, which represents Google, Facebook and other web companies, endorsed the bill after reaching a deal to modify some language. The bill — and the compromise amendment — moves to its first vote this morning.

Behind the scenes: Here's how it the compromise came together, according to interviews with multiple sources with knowledge of the negotiations:

  • Google put up a significant fight over the bill. The company proposed several changes, including having the Justice Department sign off on state attorneys general pursuing the sites, which the bill's backers rejected as attempts to significantly weaken the bill, said two Senate sources. Facebook, meanwhile, didn't push back as hard on the compromise or engage in significant active lobbying as the negotiations reached the home stretch, according to multiple people. Both companies declined to comment.
    • Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said in a Facebook post yesterday that she is "grateful" that lawmakers reached a compromise.
  • Senators from both parties ratcheted up the pressure to make a deal. That includes Senate Commerce Committee Chair John Thune, who wanted a compromise before the bill proceeded to a committee vote, multiple sources said. Another source said that Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer wanted to see the companies and lawmakers reach a deal.
  • A group of lawmakers shared some of the tech industry's concerns but pushed the industry to work out a compromise. A cadre of Democrats led by Sen. Kamala Harris wanted to see changes to the bill before they signed on. They ultimately did the same day the compromise was announced.
  • Staffers for Sens. Rob Portman and Richard Blumenthal huddled with the Internet Association and Thune's staff in the final weeks of negotiations, the two Senate sources said. The deal was only finalized nine minutes before the deadline to circulate the proposed text to members of the Commerce Committee, according to one of the sources. The Internet Association declined to comment.

What they're saying:

  • Some tech industry sources tell us the deal isn't considered much of a win for tech, but was necessary given the political circumstances. "This is grudging, but a recognition of the politics," said a technology industry source, adding that the tech firms also understood the gravity of the sex-trafficking crimes involved.
  • Others argue that the changes are substantive, making it possible for companies to fight trafficking without incurring new liability and ensuring that all claims brought by state officials are tied to federal law. They also say there was a very real chance that the bill could have passed as it was originally written, which would have been a worse outcome for the industry.
  • Engine, which represents smaller internet companies, and TechFreedom said Monday that support for the bill signals "good intentions and the importance of the issue, but doesn't mean the bill is the best way to fight sex trafficking. Nor, unfortunately, will the changes announced on Friday prevent the bill from backfiring."
The bigger picture: These negotiations have been going on for months but came to a head late last week, in the midst of two days of tense hearings where Google, Twitter and Facebook were questioned about Russian manipulation of their platforms to influence the presidential election.
  • Many in the tech industry felt they needed to resolve the sex-trafficking issue in part to focus on other battles coming down the pike, including a separate bill seeking new online political ad disclosures, sources say.
  • "I can't think of another issue where tech had to fold like this," said a Senate aide familiar with the negotiations.

What's next?: If the bill passes today the next step would be a vote on the Senate floor. That could be blocked, or at least made more difficult, by Sen. Ron Wyden, who wrote the law that protects web platforms from being liable for the content their users post.

Be smart: After tech heavyweights defeated a pair of piracy bills in 2012, lawmakers tip-toed around issues that could tick off the industry. Tech lobbyist even reminded SESTA bill sponsors of that win during early talks about the bill, two sources said. The industry still has plenty of clout in Washington, but new skepticism and policy fights have emerged over the past five years.

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Mulvaney: Trump "doesn't know who to believe" on Moore allegations

Screenshot of Mick Mulvaney on "Meet the Press" with Andrea Mitchell.

Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Marc Short, White House director of legislative affairs, both attempted on Sunday to explain President Trump's silence on the accusations of child sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct against GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore:

  • Mulvaney said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Trump "doesn't know who to believe," and "thinks that the voters of Alabama should decide."
  • Short said on ABC's "This Week" that "the president has expressed his concern" about the allegations against Moore: "As you noted, the president has not gone down to Alabama to campaign for Roy Moore since the primary concluded. We have serious concerns about the allegations that have been made, but we also believe that all of this info is out there for the people of Alabama."
Why it matters: The RNC has pulled its support from Moore and most high-ranking Republicans have repudiated him. Trump hasn't, but he has weighed in on the allegations against Democratic Sen. Al Franken.
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Zimbabwe dictator Mugabe to resign after 37 years in power

Zimbabweans sing and pray at a Christian peace and prayer rally Sunday in Harare. Photo: Ben Curtis / AP

Robert Mugabe, the 93-year-old dictator who led Zimbabwe for 37 years, will resign tonight, Reuters reports. He has already been removed as the leader of his party and early today was negotiating his resignation with military leaders, per the NY Times.

Mugabe was facing impeachment if he did not resign. Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was Zimbabwe's vice president until Mugabe precipitated the coup by placing his wife next in line for the presidency, appears poised to take control. He is known as a ruthless strongman.

Sunday Times of London lead story, "Fear is gone as the people turn on 'thief' Mugabe ... Zimbabweans unite against the tyrant who enslaved them," by Chief Foreign Correspondent Christina Lamb:

  • "It felt like a revolution. They came from all over the country and all walks of life. Young and old, opposition activists and party apparatchiks, white farmers and black war veterans, housewives and their maids."
  • "The slow-motion coup that began when the army arrested President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday was not yet over, but everyone knew that his own party was preparing to remove him."
  • Why it matters: "In 20 years of reporting on Zimbabwe I have never seen anything like it. This country has infuriated me like no other. The people are incredibly friendly but I have watched them vote for a ruling party that made their lives a nightmare — for fear of being beaten or their daughters being raped."
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Broadcom and Qualcomm move forward on other deals

Raimond Spekking via Wikimedia Commons

Broadcom hasn't yet gotten a "yes" on its takeover approach for Qualcomm, but both chipmakers are moving forward on other deals that could smooth their path to a mega-merger:

  • Broadcom on Friday closed its $5.5 billion purchase of networking switch maker Brocade, which was first announced last November.
  • Qualcomm is set to win "imminent" Japanese antitrust approval for its $38 billion takeover of Dutch chipmaker NXP Semiconductors, according to Reuters, with European approval expected by year-end.

Key move: Broadcom's recent decision to redomicile from Singapore to the U.S. seems to have gotten it over the final regulatory hurdles to buying California-based Brocade, as it had received antitrust approval in July but refiled in October with a U.S. body that oversees foreign investments. It also should aid in buying Qualcomm — although first it needs to make a higher offer.

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System failure on the NYC subway

A northbound #1 on Oct. 31. Photo: Richard Drew / AP

A front-page story from the NY Times' Brian Rosenthal, Emma Fitzsimmons and Michael LaForgia breaks down "How Politics and Bad Decisions Starved New York's Subways," starting with "a perennial lack of investment in tracks, trains and signals."

  • Wait, what? "[T]he actual movement of trains [relies] on a 1930s-era signal system with fraying, cloth-covered cables." (See the archaic equipment.)
  • "Daily ridership has nearly doubled in the past two decades to 5.7 million, but New York is the only major city in the world with fewer miles of track than it had during World War II."
  • "New York's subway now has the worst on-time performance of any major rapid transit system in the world ... Just 65 percent of weekday trains reach their destinations on time, the lowest rate since the transit crisis of the 1970s."
  • "Reporters for The Times reviewed thousands of pages of state and federal documents, including records that had not previously been made public; built databases to compare New York with other cities; and interviewed more than 300 people."
  • Let 'em out!

N.Y. Times Quote of the Day ... Roger Toussaint, former head of the MTA's main union, on what he sees as a focus on flashy subway projects instead of maintenance: "They haven't been spending money on the spine. They've been spending money on the limbs."

P.S. "Conductors on [New York] subway trains have been told to stop addressing passengers as 'ladies and gentlemen' when making announcements about delays, detours or other things, and instead use the gender-neutral terms 'passengers,' 'riders,' and 'everyone.'" (AP)

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Weinstein dominos, updated

Top: Harvey Weinstein, former Amazon Studios head Roy Price, director James Toback, New Orleans chef John Besh. Middle: fashion photographer Terry Richardson, New Republic contributing editor Leon Wieseltier, Mark Halperin, former Defy Media executive Andy Signore. Bottom: filmmaker Brett Ratner, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Piven, Dustin Hoffman. (AP)

Some stories move so fast and far, we lose sight of the scale. So here's a freeze-frame on a defining story of our time: Men accused of sexual misconduct post-Weinstein, compiled by AP (click for details on each):

Entertainment:

  • Celebrity chef John Besh
  • Comedian Louis C.K.
  • Cinefamily executives Hadrian Belove and Shadie Elnashai
  • Actor Richard Dreyfuss: One woman alleges sexual harassment. He denies the allegation.
  • Director-producer Gary Goddard
  • Casting employee Andy Henry
  • Actor Dustin Hoffman: Accused by woman of sexual harassing when she was 17. He has apologized.
  • Actor Robert Knepper
  • Showrunner Andrew Kreisberg
  • Actor Jeremy Piven: Accused by three women of sexual misconduct. He denies all allegations.
  • Filmmaker Brett Ratner
  • Comedy festival organizer Gilbert Rozon
  • Producer Chris Savino
  • Actor Steven Seagal: Accused by two women of rape. He denies the allegations.
  • Actor Tom Sizemore: Accused of groping an 11-year-old actress in 2003. Utah prosecutors declined to file charges, citing witness and evidence problems. He denies the allegation.
  • Actor Kevin Spacey
  • Actor Jeffrey Tambor
  • Actor George Takei
  • Writer-director James Toback
  • "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner
  • Actor Ed Westwick

Media, publishing and business:

  • Billboard magazine executive Stephen Blackwell
  • Penguin Random House art director Giuseppe Castellano
  • New Republic publisher Hamilton Fish
  • Mark Halperin
  • Artforum publisher Knight Landesman
  • NPR news chief Michael Oreskes
  • Amazon executive Roy Price
  • Webster Public Relations CEO Kirt Webster
  • Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner: Accused by one man of sexual harassment. He says he did not intend to make the accuser uncomfortable.
  • New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier
  • NBC News booking exec Matt Zimmerman
Politics:
  • Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)
  • Senate candidate Roy Moore (R.-Ala.)
  • Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel: Accused of sexually inappropriate comments and behavior toward a number of women, Bittel resigned Friday.
  • Florida Democratic state Sen. Jeff Clemens resigned after a report that he had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist.
  • Florida Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala is being investigated by the Senate over allegations of harassment and groping. Latvala has denied the allegations.
  • Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover
  • British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon
Sports:
  • International Olympic Committee member Alex Gilady
  • Former South African soccer association president Danny Jordaan
  • Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter
P.S. L.A. Times front page today: "[Brett] Ratner, [Russell] Simmons face new allegations of misconduct: Powerful Hollywood friends shared party lifestyle."
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Senate tax plan's winners and losers

CNBC screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Photo: Richard Drew / AP

Winners, per AP's Marcy Gordon, beginning with a big win for wealthy individuals and their heirs:
  • Corporations win all around, with a tax rate slashed from 35% to 20% in both bills — though they'd have to wait a year for it under the Senate measure.
  • U.S. oil companies with foreign operations would pay reduced taxes under the Senate bill on their income from sales of oil and natural gas abroad.
  • Beer, wine and liquor producers would reap tax reductions under the Senate measure.
  • Companies that provide management services like maintenance for aircraft.

Losers:

  • An estimated 13 million Americans could lose health insurance coverage under the Senate bill, which would repeal the "Obamacare" requirement that everyone in the U.S. have health insurance.
  • People living in high-tax states would be hit by repeal of federal deductions for state and local taxes under the Senate bill, and partial repeal under the House measure. That's the result of a compromise allowing the deduction of up to $10,000 in property taxes.
  • Many families making less than $30,000 a year would face tax increases starting in 2021 under the Senate bill, according to Congress' nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. By 2027, families earning less than $75,000 would see their tax bills rise, while those making more would enjoy reductions.
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FBI report on "black identity extremists" raises civil rights fears

AP's Jon Elswick

"An FBI report on the rise of black 'extremists' is stirring fears of a return to practices used during the civil rights movement, when the bureau spied on activist groups," AP reports:

  • "The 12-page report, issued in August, says 'black identity extremists' are increasingly targeting law enforcement after police killings of black men ... It warned that such violence was likely to continue."
  • "Black leaders and activists were outraged after Foreign Policy revealed the existence of the report last month."
  • Why it matters: "The Congressional Black Caucus, in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, said the report 'conflates black political activists with dangerous domestic terrorist organizations' and would further erode the frayed relationship between police and minority communities."
  • "A similar bulletin on white supremacists ... came out about the same time."
  • "The FBI noted it issued a similar bulletin warning of retaliatory violence by 'black separatist extremists' in March 2016, when the country had a black president, Barack Obama, and black attorney general, Loretta Lynch."
Featured

Life under Kim Jong-un

In Pyongyang, a North Korean uses his smartphone in front of portraits of the late leaders Kim Il Sung (left) and Kim Jong Il. (2015 photo by AP's Wong Maye-E)

In six months of interviews in South Korea and Thailand, Anna Fifield, the Washington Post's Tokyo bureau chief, talked with more than 25 North Koreans from different walks of life who lived in Kim Jong-un's North Korea and managed to escape. What she found:

  • "They paint a picture of a once-communist state that has all but broken down, its state-directed economy at a standstill."
  • "Today, North Koreans are making their own way, earning money in an entrepreneurial and often illegal fashion."
  • The "Aha!" moment: "Market activity is exploding, and with that comes a flow of information, whether as chitchat from traders who cross into China or as soap operas loaded on USB sticks. And this leads many North Koreans to dream in a way they hadn't before."
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Every industry identifying its creeps

Participants at the #MeToo March in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. Photo: Damian Dovarganes / AP

There has been an outpouring of sexual misconduct allegations in recent weeks, spanning from politics to the music industry and the restaurant business. Every industry is scrambling to identify the men behaving badly and do something about it.

Why it matters: It's a clear picture of just how widespread this problem is. From the TED talk empire, to Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood, and the U.K. defense secretary, there is no one industry or field that isn't affected by sexual harassment.

Politics

Tech

Restaurants

Advertising

Hollywood

Hotels

  • The Huffington Post reported a study that revealed a majority of Chicago-area hospitality industry employees had been sexually harassed by a guest, had a guest touch or try to touch them, and more.

Science

  • Sexual harassment in the field of scientific research is prevalent, per Vox, when studies occur in remote workplaces (like Antarctica).

Music

  • Kirt Webster, major country music publicist, left his company after sexual assault allegations.

Media

  • Mark Halperin lost his book and HBO show deal, as well as contributing position with MSNBC, after five women accused him of harassment during his time at ABC.
  • NPR news chief Michael Oreskes resigned after two women accused him of sexual misconduct and harassment.
  • New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier lost financial backing on his coming magazine after being accused of sexual harassment.

Fashion

Sports