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US drops designation of China as currency manipulator

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is dropping its designation of China as a currency manipulator in advance of the signing Wednesday of a Phase 1 U.S.-China trade agreement.

The preliminary pact that the two sides are set to sign this week includes a section that’s intended to prevent China from manipulating its currency to gain trade advantages.

The action announced Monday comes five months after the Trump administration had branded China a currency manipulator — the first time that any country had been so named since 1994 during the Clinton administration.

Even while removing China from its currency black list, the Treasury Department does name China as one of 10 countries it says require placement on a watch list that will mean their currency practices will be closely monitored. In addition to China, the countries on that list are Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Switzerland and Vietnam.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the administration had dropped China’s designation as a currency manipulator because of commitments in the Phase 1 trade agreement that President Donald Trump is to sign with China on Wednesday at the White House.

“China has made enforceable commitments to refrain from competitive devaluation, while promoting transparency and accountability,” Mnuchin said in a statement accompanying the currency report.

Some critics of China’s trade practices criticized the administration’s decision Monday.

“China is a currency manipulator — that is a fact,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader in the Senate. “When it comes to the president’s stance on China, Americans are getting a lot of show and very little results.’”

The Treasury Department is required to report to Congress twice a year in April and October on whether any countries are manipulating their currencies to gain unfair trade advantages against U.S. businesses and workers. When a country manipulates its currency to keep it artificially low, its goods become comparatively less expensive overseas — and other countries’ goods become relatively more expensive.

The new report is technically three months late, apparently because the Trump administration had delayed its release until it had achieved the currency Phase 1 commitments from China.

The initial decision to brand China as a manipulator had come in a surprise announcement in August, reversing a Treasury finding in May that no country was manipulating its currency. The United States had not put any country on the manipulation blacklist since the Clinton administration branded China a manipulator 26 years ago. Trump had long accused China of manipulating its currency, even though most independent experts concluded that Beijing had stopped doing so years ago.

The designation was largely symbolic. It obliged the United States to enter into negotiations to resolve the currency problem that could ultimately lead to the imposition of economic sanctions such as higher tariffs on Chinese goods — something the Trump administration was already doing in its tit-for-tat trade war with China.

Trump is scheduled to sign the Phase 1 agreement on Wednesday after which administration officials said the text of the deal will be made public.

In a fact sheet on the deal released Dec. 13, the administration said the agreement would address ‘“unfair currency practices by requiring high-standard commitments to refrain from competitive devaluations and targeting of exchange rates.”’

The signing of the Phase 1 agreement caps a rocky two-years of trade conflict between the two nations in which punitive tariffs were imposed on billions of dollars of products from each nation. The battle escalated uncertainty and caused businesses to pull back on their investments, slowing global growth. It also roiled financial markets with fears that the trade war could become serious enough to push the U.S. economy into a recession.


AP Economics Writer Paul Wiseman contributed to this report.


Latta votes against limiting Trumps' war powers

Local U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) last week voted against a proposal to limit President Donald Trump’s war powers following a back and forth in which a U.S. drone strike killed Iran’s top general before two U.S. military bases in Iraq were struck by Iranian missile fire, with no reported casualties.

Upon voting to strike down the proposal, which now awaits a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate after passing 224-194 in the House, Latta’s office released a statement on the matter.

“The president’s action to order the strike to kill a known terrorist who was responsible for heinous crimes and the killing of hundreds of American troops was not only justified, but more importantly, it was legal,” said Latta in the prepared statement. “As commander in chief, the president has the Article II Constitutional authority to use force to protect and defend our country and the men and women in our armed forces. Furthermore, the swift nature of this decision was crucial to ensuring the mission was successful and executed in the safest possible way.”

The legislation was largely supported along partisan lines, although three Republicans voted in favor of the resolution and eight Democrats against it.

According to Latta’s news release, he believed it would be too limiting in scope, based on his own interpretation of the legislation.

Proponents of the measure believe Trump’s lack of congressional consultation was an executive overreach. The president’s supporters have countered with the notion of imminent threats to the U.S. were planned, though no evidence of such a threat has yet been produced.

“This resolution wrongly forbids the use of force against any part of Iran’s government or military, even if they are threatening or attacking American civilians, diplomats or allies,” said Latta. “It is important to note that our armed forces are not engaged in hostilities against Iran even though the resolution calls for us to withdraw from such engagements.”

Latta also took issue with the way the legislation was proposed, indicating his belief Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi brought it forward “under the guise of a repeal of the Authorization for Use of Military Force vote.”

“This is another example of how the House Democrats’ bias against the president is clouding their judgment,” said Latta. “Their continued efforts to undermine the administration has the potential to put our country at risk at home and abroad, which will only embolden dangerous foreign actors.”

The measure likely needs four votes from GOP senators for passage in the Senate. Republican Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky have already publicly expressed their support.

A vote could occur as soon as today, but would likely be tabled during any Senate impeachment process to come.

The bill is a concurrent resolution, meaning it would not require the president’s signature for approval. As such, some party-line Republicans have indicated their belief such a resolution would be non-binding.

Edon Schools approves new board member, hears complaints about golf program

EDON — A new Edon Northwest Local Schools Board of Education member has been appointed by the board following a lack of interested candidates in November’s election.

During its regular monthly meeting Monday evening, the board unanimously approved the appointment of first-time board member Patty Eicher of Edon.

Eicher is a Montpelier native who currently works as a plant controller for Hudson Industries. She had five grown children, most of whom attended Edon Schools.

Eicher replaces Erin Nester, who served for four years on the board but chose not to seek reelection in November, at the conclusion of her first term.

“I heard the opportunity had come up, so I decided to apply for it and give it a shot,” said Eicher. “The school board has already made things change for Edon and it seems like it’s going in a good direction and I want to be a part of continuing the direction for the school and community.”

Eicher’s term expires in December 2021.

As part of the board’s organizational meeting, veteran board member Cody Best, now starting his second term, was elected to reprise his role as president with Ashley Reed slated to fill the role of vice president. Reed was elected in 2018.

Complaints about golf program

During the meeting’s public comment portion, a parent called for suspension or elimination of Edon Northwest Local Schools’ golf program in order to allow his son to transfer to another school without penalty.

Ray Price, of Edon, spoke to the board briefly, alleging a culture that he believes doesn’t fully and functionally support the program.

His allegations included failure to schedule a typical number of events; failure to communicate a season-long league rule change affecting final placement to student(s) prior to league play this school year; either inadvertent or purposeful withholding of golf bags paid for by the school’s athletic boosters program; failure to procure transportation for students on at least one occasion; failure to pay fees mandated to come directly from a school district in a timely manner; lack of a junior high program; lack of a full team (that can be scored as such) for the past three years; failure to provide early release time for students to warm up for matches; as well as a general lack of visible, vocal and financial support from administration relative to other sports.

None of the assertions were immediately confirmed or refuted by administration.

“The kids have no support whatsoever, none,” said Price, noting his support for revamping the program down the road, if possible. “Right now, we’re not doing the things to be like every other school, we can’t be competitive.

“(Golf is) an afterthought and that’s fine. If Edon wants to be a football school, be a football school, but you’re not a golf school and there’s no intention on being one,” said Price. “To just say we have a program is not fair to the kids who are not getting the same things everyone else is getting.”

Price also asserted that the district is not actively recruiting a golf coach and pointed to the team’s expected small size next year — one member at this time according to Price — as additional reasons to suspend or cancel.

“I appreciate the insight from your perspective, it’s definitely something we can discuss,” responded Best. “I think we’re probably going to come up with several questions relating to the things you discussed that I’m not aware of.”

In other action, the board:

• Accepted the resignation of Lucas Jordan as assistant varsity football and basketball coach. Board member Jamie Schaffter voted no on confirming the resignation.

• Unanimously approved the resignation of Matt Stechschulte as head junior varsity baseball coach.

• Approved a transfer of $8,322.02 from the 1997 Bond Retirement Fund to the 2000 Bond Retirement Fund.

• Employed Dave Haase as custodian on a one-year contract.

• Went into executive session to discuss personnel.

Bryan man pleads guilty to RICO charge

As one trial for a charge of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity in the Williams County Court of Common Pleas nears its start, another is over before it began.

Ryan W. Grime, 26, of Bryan, was indicted in June 2019 on a felony charge of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and subsequently arrested by Williams County sheriff’s deputies Aug. 13 and taken to the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio to await trial. He was also indicted on a felony charge of aggravated possession of drugs.

Both charges stem from law enforcement authorities’ assertion that he possessed an undisclosed amount of methamphetamine on April 2, 2019.

Authorities have not further commented on the details regarding the case.

On Monday, Grime pleaded guilty to a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act charge in the Williams County Court of Common Pleas, having previously pleaded not guilty during his initial appearance in August.

Grime was sentenced to a mandatory minimum three years incarceration for the RICO charge, while the aggravated possession charge was dismissed as part of the plea arrangement with prosecution.

Grime was indicted at the same time as Andrew Kendall of Bryan, who was recently convicted on several drug-related offenses and faces an additional felony RICO charge in the coming weeks.

Both are currently incarcerated at CCNO.

Towns won't appear on primary ballot

Incumbent Sheriff Steve Towns will not appear on the Republican primary ballot after a hearing by the Williams County Elections Board on Monday.

At issue was the viability of his candidacy after a Nov. 5, 2019, conviction in Bryan Municipal Court on a first-degree misdemeanor charge of disseminating confidential information about a child abuse case.

All three of the challengers on the ballot— Pioneer Police Chief Tim Livengood, former sheriff’s deputy Shaun Fulk and former county wildlife officer Tom Kochert — filed protests, saying Towns was unable to run because of the conviction.

According to Ohio Revised Code 311.01 (B) (5), a candidate for sheriff is disqualified from the ballot if convicted of a first-degree misdemeanor.

The board unanimously came to the decision that Towns had to be removed from the ballot.

“I think it’s important to understand our duty is to uphold the law,” said board member Scott Towers. “It’s not to retry your case, it’s to do what we’re legally obligated to do, according to the revised code.”

The Ohio Revised Code, he continued, states someone with a first-degree misdemeanor conviction can’t run for the office.

It would be no different for any other candidate for sheriff, Towers added.

“For the board’s integrity’s sake, I think it’s important for us to be consistent,” he said. “We’ve had other candidates in this election cycle who we’ve had to tell can’t be on the ballot for pretty minor reasons but the law requires us not to allow them to be on (the ballot).”

Paul Duggan, another board member, said the board exists to make elections fair and efficient and they don’t want to get into issues about constitutionality or details of the law, saying “we aren’t judges.”

“We’re a quasi-judicial board,” he said. “I don’t want to do this, but these guys made it clear, I don’t have any choice. We’re not here to render an opinion on (Towns’) appeal ... At the end of the day, I’ve got to vote to kick you off the ballot. I don’t want to do it, but the case law is clear.”

Towns said he was planning on appealing the board’s decision while also pulling a petition to have Sheriff’s Lt. Greg Rusky run in the November election as an independent candidate for the position of sheriff.

“I will support him fully and I will ask the citizens of Williams County to support Rusky for sheriff,” Towns said. “If I win at the supreme court, we’ll deal with that then.”

Towns’ attorney, Hank Schaefer, of Groth & Associates out of Toledo, said after the vote that the appeal on the board’s decision will be made before the March primary.

That means if he wins the appeal, which will be made either to the Secretary of State or the Ohio Supreme Court, he would still appear on the ballot.

No matter what happens, Towns said he wanted to continue serving the county.

“I’m happy with whatever,” he said, adding a misdemeanor wouldn’t prevent him from working as a deputy. “I’m a public servant who is going to serve the public anyway I can.”

The arguments

Towns objected to the protest for his removal, saying the board is given “wide-ranging discretion” on the decision and pointing to cases from Harding, Miggs and Sandusky counties in which candidates were left on the ballot “in all aspects and in all possibilities.”

“Whatever the violation is, there is a legal remedy before you take office,” he said. “If I’m off the ballot and then my appeal would win in May or April or whatever, there’s no remedy for that. I’m off the ballot and the citizens of Williams County have been cheated from their ability to have a choice on what they would like to go forward with.”

Earlier in the meeting, Towns handed each of the board members a thick packet of information, including a five-and-a-half page statement from him with exhibits including emails and other documents.

Through the statement and papers, he questioned the actions of officials including Williams County Prosecutor Katie Zartman in not going through the Ohio Ethics Commission for his misdemeanor charge.

He asked the board to not allow the “manipulation of the legal system to remove the option of the citizens of Williams County to be able to choose who they want to go forward.”

Schaefer brought up a dissenting opinion from Justice Paul Pfeifer on the qualifications for sheriff.

“(He) repeatedly said the statute is unconstitutional,” Schaefer said. “He said there is not even a rational basis for the existence of the statute, that the people should have the right to elect whom they wish.”

The three “well-crafted” pleas to have Towns removed from the ballot should have been made not to the board of elections, he said, but rather to the electorate, which has a better opportunity to choose a good sheriff with more names on the ballot.

“Based on that, I would urge you to not remove the candidacy of Sheriff Towns from the ballot,” Schaefer said.

The board’s special counsel, Derek Clinger, said the board doesn’t have the authority to declare a law unconstitutional and a court hasn’t done that, yet.

Other protests

The board also heard protests made by Towns against the other candidates and the elections board, itself. All those protests were dismissed.

Against Livengood, Towns alleged Williams County Prosecutor’s Office staff violated election law by collecting nominating petition signatures for Livengood while on duty and on county-owned property.

That was dismissed as it is not the purview of the election board to decide how the signatures were collected, nor to reject them under these circumstances.

Protests against Livengood and Fulk questioned whether a classified public employee, such as police officers, could run for political office.

Both were dismissed as no law prevented a classified employee from running for a political office.

Towns questioned a discrepancy in Kochert’s election profile, which stated he attended Hocking College in the 1980s but only received his degree in 2019.

The board dismissed the protest, as it didn’t matter when he received the degree, only that he ultimately received it, as it is a necessity to run for sheriff.

Also at issue was a protest about potential conflict of interest by County Prosecutor Zartman to act as the board’s legal counsel. A special counsel was appointed to oversee the board and no conflict was found.

Another protest about the timing of the hearing was dismissed.