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Mexico boycott clouds Biden’s regional Americas’ summit

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US President Joe Biden, who will welcome Latin American leaders in Los Angeles, speaks in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
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The Summit of the Americas began under a cloud Monday after Mexico’s leader said he was snubbing President Joe Biden’s invitation because Washington refused to invite Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela over human rights abuses and lack of democracy.

The dispute, right as the week-long gathering in Los Angeles was getting underway, highlighted the challenges facing the Biden administration’s attempt to solidify US leadership in its own backyard at a time when China is making diplomatic and commercial inroads.

Confirming it was not inviting the three far-left governments, a senior White House official cited “reservations regarding the lack of democratic space and the human rights situations.”

In response, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he would stay away.

“You cannot have a Summit of the Americas if you do not have all the countries of the Americas attending,” Lopez Obrador announced, complaining of US “hegemony” and “lack of respect for nations.”

Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard will represent Mexico instead, but the leftist populist leader’s absence will diminish the impact of a summit where US-Mexico relations are at the heart of major immigration and trade issues.

The senior US official did not directly respond to Lopez Obrador’s boycott, saying only that “the United States recognizes and respects the position of allies in support of inclusive dialogue.” The official also said non-governmental representatives from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela would be present.

Biden is expected to make announcements at the summit on economic cooperation and fighting Covid-19 and climate change, said Juan Gonzalez, the top White House adviser on Latin America.

The US president, who flies to Los Angeles Wednesday, also hopes to secure an agreement on regional cooperation over migration, a major concern for US voters and an area where Republican opponents see Biden as vulnerable in upcoming midterm elections.

The number of Central Americans and Haitians seeking to enter the United States has been surging as they flee poverty and violence in their homelands.

– ‘Unfortunate subplot’ –

Despite the dispute with Mexico, the Biden administration has secured the presence of other key regional players.

These include Argentina’s left-leaning Alberto Fernandez, whom Biden also invited to Washington, and Brazil’s far-right Jair Bolsonaro.

Benjamin Gedan, who heads the Latin America program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said Lopez Obrador’s absence would mark a “significant void” and said Mexico’s leader seemed more focused on domestic political gain.

The boycott has been “a really unfortunate subplot in the run-up to the summit because it has drained an enormous amount of US diplomatic energy for a bizarre cause celebre,” Gedan said.

He said Biden has crafted a positive agenda, avoiding simply summoning Latin American leaders to lecture them on democracy, corruption and China.

But he said it was unclear whether Biden will bring substantial resources to the table, in contrast to China’s lavish infrastructure spending and trade privileges.

“The real barometer for this summit will be whether the United States offers meaningful new market access, lending and foreign assistance to support economic recovery and infrastructure in the region,” Gedan said.

“And there I think, inevitably, the United States will disappoint.”

– ‘Progressively less ambitious’ –

The Summit of the Americas is the first held by the United States since the inaugural 1994 meeting in Miami, where then US president Bill Clinton sought the creation of a trade area to cover the whole continent except communist Cuba.

The United States has since soured on free trade, with Biden following the lead of his predecessor Donald Trump, who said such pacts hurt US workers.

Trump championed a hard line on Venezuela and Cuba, and did not attend the last Summit of the Americas, in Peru in 2018. 

Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, recently told a congressional hearing that each summit has become “progressively less ambitious” with a shift “from a shared vision for democracy, trade and prosperity to a venue for taking a stand.”

Los Angeles, he said, “offers the perfect opportunity for Washington to announce a commitment to regional growth and recovery.”

Michael Shifter, a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, said the drama over summit attendance showed Washington’s waning hold over the region.

China has emerged as a leading partner, he said, and Latin American leaders are keenly aware of Biden’s political woes including the possibility that Republicans will retake control of Congress in November.

The United States “still has a lot of soft power,” Shifter said. “As for political and diplomatic influence, it is diminishing by the day.”

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Musk accuses Twitter of withholding data, says may withdraw bid

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Tesla Chief Exeuctive Elon Musk threatened to withdraw his bid for Twitter if the company does not provided requested information on fake accounts
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Elon Musk threatened Monday to withdraw his bid to buy Twitter, accusing it of failing to provide data on fake accounts, in the latest twist in the Tesla billionaire’s push to acquire the social network.

Twitter has committed “a clear material breach” of its “obligations under the merger agreement and Mr. Musk reserves … his right not to consummate the transaction,” according to a document filed with securities regulators.

The filing marks an escalation of Musk’s prior statements that have highlighted fake accounts as a threat to his proposed $44 billion deal to take over Twitter.

The mercurial Musk agreed a deal in late April to purchase Twitter.

But the proposed sale has stoked protest from critics who warn his stewardship will embolden hate groups and disinformation campaigns.

US securities regulators have also pressed Musk for an explanation of an apparent delay in reporting his Twitter stock buys.

Musk began making significant noise about fake accounts in mid-May, saying on Twitter he could walk away from the transaction if his concerns were not addressed.

Some observers have seen Musk’s questioning of Twitter bots as a means to end the takeover process, or to pressure Twitter into lowering the price.

Musk’s latest statement on bots signifies he is “looking to walk away from deal,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said Monday on Twitter, noting that there is a $1 billion breakup fee in the Twitter-Musk transaction. 

“We continue to believe that Elon is playing hard ball… to gain leverage/options to either reduce his offer price or indeed completely walk away if he gets cold feet,” said CFRA Research’s Angelo Zino.

“Ultimately, we are finding it increasingly difficult to envision a scenario where this doesn’t get settled in the courts.”

– Back and forth –

Musk has said that the real number of bots may be four times higher than Twitter estimates.

Bots can be used on social media to spread false news or create a distorted impression of how widely information is being consumed and shared.

Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal has said that fewer than five percent of accounts active on any given day at Twitter are bots, but that analysis cannot be replicated externally due to the need to keep user data private.

But Musk has been dismissive of Twitter’s responses and reiterated that stance in Monday’s filing.

Musk’s attorney, Mike Ringler, said Twitter had failed to respond to Musk’s valid inquiry about fake accounts, according to the filing.

“Mr. Musk has made it clear that he does not believe the company’s lax testing methodologies are adequate so he must conduct his own analysis,” Ringler said in the letter. “The data he has requested is necessary to do so.”

To execute the deal, Musk “must have a complete and accurate understanding of the very core of Twitter’s business model — its active user base,” said the filing. 

“Mr. Musk believes Twitter is transparently refusing to comply with its obligations under the merger agreement, which is causing further suspicion that the company is withholding the requested data due to concern for what Mr. Musk’s own analysis of that data will uncover.”

Shares of Twitter fell 2.9 percent to $38.99 in late-morning trading.

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US suspends solar tariffs, boosts production in clean energy push

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Boosting renewable capacity and combating climate change are a priority for President Joe Biden whose green ambitions have met with mixed success
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US President Joe Biden on Monday will suspend tariffs for two years on solar panel imports from four countries and invoke a key power to compel domestic manufacture of clean energy technology, the White House said.

The moves are aimed at boosting renewable capacity and combating climate change, a priority for the president whose green ambitions have met with mixed success.

“Today’s clean energy technologies are a critical part of the arsenal we must harness to lower energy costs for families, reduce risks to our power grid, and tackle the urgent crisis of a changing climate,” the White House said in a fact sheet.

It added that, compared to when Biden took office, the United States was on track to triple domestic solar manufacturing capacity by 2024, from 7.5 gigawatts to 22.5 gigawatts, enough to enable 3.3 million homes to switch to solar each year.

Duties will be lifted on certain solar parts from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam — but not China — as a “bridge” to ensure the United States has access to sufficient parts to meet electricity needs while domestic capacity scales up.

China is excluded as the Commerce Department investigates whether some Chinese companies are circumventing US customs duties by assembling parts in the four countries.

At the same time, Biden’s administration will invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA) to accelerate production, and use the federal government’s purchasing power to increase demand.

Solar panel parts, building insulation and efficient heat pumps are all targeted under the DPA.

Former president Donald Trump used the same powers during the Covid pandemic to increase production of medicines and equipment, and it was also invoked during World War II.

Most recently, Biden used the act to help baby formula makers to overcome a production shortfall.

The administration will also look to permit more clean energy projects on public lands, including both solar and wind.

“The fact is with a stronger clean energy arsenal, the United States can also be a stronger power partner to our allies all around the world, especially in the face of Putin’s war in Ukraine,” a senior administration official told reporters.

“The stakes are high and the president is taking action.”

Biden has succeeded in getting Congress to pass a bipartisan infrastructure law, a pillar in his climate policy, but has failed to pass a second proposed law, the Build Back Better act.

At the same time he has been criticized by environmental groups for plans to resume oil and gas drilling on public lands, reneging on a campaign promise.

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Musk accuses Twitter of withholding data, says may withdraw bid

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Tesla Chief Exeuctive Elon Musk threatened to withdraw his bid for Twitter if the company does not provided requested information on fake accounts
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Elon Musk threatened Monday to withdraw his bid to buy Twitter, accusing it of failing to provide data on fake accounts, in the latest twist in the Tesla billionaire’s push to acquire the social network.

Twitter has committed “a clear material breach” of its “obligations under the merger agreement and Mr. Musk reserves … his right not to consummate the transaction,” according to a document filed with securities regulators.

The filing marks an escalation of Musk’s prior statements that have highlighted fake accounts as a threat to his proposed $44 billion deal to take over Twitter.

Musk has said that the real number of bots may be four times higher than Twitter estimates.

Bots can be used on social media to spread false news or create a distorted impression of how widely information is being consumed and shared.

Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal has said that fewer than five percent of accounts active on any given day at Twitter are bots, but that analysis cannot be replicated externally due to the need to keep user data private.

Musk has been dismissive of Twitter’s responses and reiterated that stance in Monday’s filing.

To execute the deal, Musk “must have a complete and accurate understanding of the very core of Twitter’s business model — its active user base,” said the filing. 

“Mr. Musk believes Twitter is transparently refusing to comply with its obligations under the merger agreement, which is causing further suspicion that the company is withholding the requested data due to concern for what Mr. Musk’s own analysis of that data will uncover.”

Shares of Twitter fell 3.6 percent to $38.70 in early trading.

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