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07.21.17 | 8:35 pm

The record sums tech giants just spent to influence U.S. law in the Trump era, in a handy chart

As they searched for their sea legs amid the strong currents of a new administration, technology companies spent a record amount—$15.79 million—on lobbying politicians at the White House and in Congress during the second quarter of 2017.

While spending by Microsoft was down over the same three-month period in 2016, some companies' spending surged. Alphabet spent $5.9 million, up 40% over last year; Oracle spent $2.79 million, a 45% hike; Uber spent a record $430,000 in its tumultuous second quarter, a 26% climb over 2016; Palantir, cofounded by billionaire Peter Thiel, spent a record $380,000, up 46% over last year; and Apple spent $2.2 million, an almost 80% increase from last year. The big splurge contributed to a surge in lobbyist revenues during the same period.

What are they after? While the tech companies' latest public campaigns have centered around net neutrality, their objectives before the White House and Congress include responses to the president's travel ban, immigration, STEM innovation, privacy regulations, small businesses, digital terrorism, and freedom of expression, as Recode notes. Tax reform is also a major issue, as tech companies contemplate how to repatriate overseas cash. (An analysis by Moody's released this week says that five of the country's largest tech companies — Apple, Microsoft, Google, Cisco and Oracle — have a collective $512 billion in money abroad.

There are more company-specific objectives too. Amazon, for instance, also lobbied a variety of federal agencies for issues related to Wi-Fi and device accessibility, copyright reform, renewable energy tax reform, drones, cybersecurity, immigration, and autonomous vehicles. A few companies are fighting a proposal in Congress that would impose new limits on how companies tap users' data to sell ads.

Aside from advancing their business priorities, some of the companies are also likely thinking defense. Back in May 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump suggested that Amazon has a "huge antitrust problem." As the (Jeff Bezos-owned) Washington Post reports, the lobbying comes amid new regulations and penalties in Europe, while "in recent months, some in Washington have called for increased scrutiny of tech's dominant platforms." 

07.06.17 | 9:37 am

Polish women dressed up in “Handmaid’s Tale” costumes to protest Donald Trump’s visit to Poland

President Trump gave a speech in Warsaw today, but not everyone thought it was a blessed day. A number of demonstrators protested the visit by donning bright red robes and white headdresses reminiscent of the Hulu show The Handmaid's Tale—which is set in a future dystopia where women are stripped of their rights.

Some local journalists and others on the scene shared pictures and videos of the protesters. In one of the videos, captioned with the tweet "We will never become handmaids," the protesters are seen pulling off their white bonnets and tearing them up. 

Instructions for how to make the headdress were posted on Facebook in advance of the protest.

The New York Times reported last month that women's rights activists had been staging similar demonstrations in U.S. capitols to protest cuts to Planned Parenthood.

06.21.17 | 6:05 am

Watch Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos, and other tech execs give Trump advice on how to modernize government

On Monday President Trump met with his American Technology Council for the first time to discuss ways to "transform and modernize" the government's use of IT services. The council includes Apple CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, among others. You can read some of the advice the tech execs gave Trump here, or now you can watch much of the meeting thanks to this 20-minute video the White House has released.

06.14.17 | 6:07 am

196 Democrats are suing President Trump

The 30 senators and 166 congressional representatives have filed a legal case against the president, accusing him of violating the constitution's emoluments clause, which prohibits the taking of gifts without congressional approval, reports NPR. In this case, the "gifts" are profits from deals involving foreign governments with Trump's various businesses. In one example alone, Trump sought and received valuable trademarks from the Chinese government without clearing it with Congress. 

06.13.17 | 6:18 am

Trump associate: The president is considering firing the special counsel in the Russian probe

"I think he's considering perhaps terminating the special counsel. I think he's weighing that option," Christopher Ruddy told PBS's NewsHourreports the Washington Post. Ruddy is the CEO of Newsmax Media and a member of Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club, who was last at the White House on Monday but did not meet with the president then, according to White House press secretary Sean Spicer. However, despite Ruddy's assertion that he believes Trump is considering firing Robert Mueller, he also believes that doing so would be "a very significant mistake" for the president.

06.01.17 | 9:14 pm

Tim Cook emails Apple employees after failing to change Donald Trump’s mind about the Paris climate deal

In this company-wide email to Apple staff obtained by Fast Company, CEO Cook shared his thoughts with his employees about President Trump's decision to exit the Paris climate accord:

I know many of you share my disappointment with the White House's decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. I spoke with President Trump on Tuesday and tried to persuade him to keep the U.S. in the agreement. But it wasn't enough.

Climate change is real and we all share a responsibility to fight it. I want to reassure you that today's developments will have no impact on Apple's efforts to protect the environment. We power nearly all of our operations with renewable energy, which we believe is an example of something that's good for our planet and makes good business sense as well.

We will keep working toward the ambitious goals of a closed-loop supply chain, and to eventually stop mining new materials altogether. Of course, we're going to keep working with our suppliers to help them do more to power their businesses with clean energy. And we will keep challenging ourselves to do even more. Knowing the good work that we and countless others around the world are doing, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about our planet's future.

Our mission has always been to leave the world better than we found it. We will never waver, because we know that future generations depend on us.

Your work is as important today as it has ever been. Thank you for your commitment to making a difference every single day.
Tim

A chorus of industry leaders have publicly lashed out at the decision, while Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Disney CEO Bob Iger both announced they would withdraw from Trump's business advisory council. The exit from the Paris agreement, they and others have argued, will harm the planet and put the U.S. at an economic disadvantage in the coming years

05.31.17 | 4:00 pm

Spicer weighs in on “covfefe,” deepening mystery

"The president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant," said White House press secretary Sean Spicer, when asked the mysterious, viral tweet President Trump sent late last night.

Predictably, the vague explanation drew laughter from the press and more scorn on Twitter, where commentators had previously joked about the press secretary being forced to explain what most assumed to be a typo.

Meanwhile, Wikipedia users attempted to interpret Trump's coinage on a page devoted to the word. "The most common theory is that given the context, Trump meant to type 'coverage,'" according to Wikipedia. "Others have put forth the possibility that it could be a codeword, neologism, or proper noun. The lack of punctuation suggests that Trump may have been interrupted mid-tweet. Some Trump supporters hailed the tweet as an example of how Trump expresses what he really thinks rather than looking to polls or focus testing before putting forth his ideas and new words."

05.31.17 | 7:50 am

Trump is pulling the U.S. out of Paris climate accord

In news that is sure to frighten and sadden anyone who cares about the planet, President Trump has decided to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, reports Axios. The move is a clear sign America, under Trump, doesn't see climate change as the biggest threat facing humanity today. Besides America, the only other two countries that aren't supporting the Paris climate accord are Nicaragua and Syria.

05.31.17 | 6:30 am

A brief history of President Trump’s bad security choices

President Trump has been urging world leaders to contact him on his cell phone, raising concerns about eavesdropping, the Associated Press reports. The decision is just one of many Trump has made that have raised alarm among security experts—including those at the Dept. of Homeland Security—even though he often criticized Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email account and said the U.S. needs to "get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare." To review:

• Trump reportedly recently revealed information about an ISIS plot to Russian officials, potentially endangering an Israeli spy who helped gather the data, and revealed to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that the Pentagon had moved two nuclear submarines toward North Korea, an unusual disclosure for the secretive sub program.

• Trump apparently continues to personally send out Twitter messages, using what Axios has reported is an iPhone with only Twitter installed.

• The administration appears to have failed to meet a self-imposed 90-day deadline to formulate a cybersecurity plan.

• In February, Trump received an urgent briefing on a North Korean mission launch in a public space at Mar-a-Lago, with aides using cell phones to illuminate sensitive documents.

• The president appointed Gen. Michael Flynn as national security advisor despite what NBC News reported was an explicit warning from former President Obama. Trump then fired Flynn for lying about interactions with Russian officials.

In addition, a number of the Trump Organization's properties have lax digital security in place, according to a recent report by ProPublica and Gizmodo, and in early May it emerged the FBI is investigating an attempted cyberattack by overseas hackers on the Trump Organization. The company said it has not been the victim of a cyberattack.

[Official White House photo by Shealah Craighead]

05.30.17 | 10:15 pm

Chinese police detain activist probing an Ivanka Trump shoe factory

Undercover investigators who have reportedly found abuses at a factory that makes Ivanka Trump's shoes were unreachable as of Saturday, with one of them detained by police on criminal suspicions, according to the New York-based nonprofit China Labor Watch.

China Labor Watch said the men had already documented excessive overtime, with some working days stretching longer than 18 hours, and a base salary below minimum wage. They were also trying to confirm evidence suggesting violations of student intern law—that interns were being put to work on projects outside their field of study. Foxconn, which helps make iPhones, was accused of similar abuses in 2012

While one man was detained by police on suspicion of illegal eavesdropping, the other two investigators' whereabouts are unknown. All three men were working undercover at Ganzhou Huajian International Shoe City Co.'s factory in Jiangxi province, just north of Guangdong province, which helps produce tens of thousands of Ivanka Trump shoes a year. 

After hundreds of investigations into Chinese factories, this was the first time any of China Labor Watch's activists had been detained in a criminal case, the director of the group, Li Qiang, told the New York Times

White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks referred questions by an AP reporter to Ivanka Trump's company, which declined to comment. Earlier this month, in response to some of China Labor Watch's claims, Abigail Klem, president of the Ivanka Trump brand, told Bloomberg that the company requires licensees and their manufacturers to "comply with all applicable local and international labor laws and the legal and ethical practices set forth in our vendor code of conduct." 

Pledges and requirements have not stemmed widespread abuses at Chinese factories, which have seen a surge in worker protests in recent years. Still, for some committed clothing companies, like those that Liz Segran wrote about last week, "made in China" doesn't need to mean lower labor standards.

Speaking with Fast Company in October, Ivanka Trump commented on the lack of any parental leave at one of her company's major licensing partners. "I do control my own business practices, and that's why I've chosen to offer an industry-leading eight weeks of paid leave, but obviously I can't control the practices of everyone in the universe I do business with."

[Photo: Flickr user Jonathan Bowen]

05.30.17 | 12:43 pm

Trump’s new subscription service is not #FakeNews

Subscription services are all the rage, so it only makes sense that the president of the United States would get in on the action. It's not like he's busy or anything, right? 

According to the Cut, the Trump campaign sent out an email advertising a brand-new, Trump-themed subscription service. For the low, low price of $69 month, subscribers to the "Big League Box" will get a "handpicked bundle of exclusive and vintage OFFICIAL Donald J. Trump merchandise" (read: a bunch of junk they had left over from the campaign) delivered straight to their doors. While it sounds like a great way to delight your enemies with monthly deliveries of the Pence/Trump campaign's garbage, remember you can also print out Trump's tweets and send them on a cake.

[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore