FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian markets mostly lower before Fed chair speech

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Asian shares have been mostly lower today as investors eye U.S. political risks and cues about the direction of monetary policy from the Federal Reserve chair.

Japan's Nikkei, South Korea's Kospi and China's Shanghai Composite Index are down. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index is up.

Investors are refraining from making big moves ahead of Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen's testimony before the U.S. Congress today and Thursday. Traders are watching for cues on the outlook for U.S. monetary policy and the Fed's plans to cut its balance sheet. The Fed is also scheduled to release its Beige Book, an economic snapshot used by the central bank to gauge U.S. economic trends.

MICROSOFT-RURAL BROADBAND

Microsoft announces rural broadband initiative

UNDATED (AP) — Microsoft is announcing a project to bring broadband internet access to rural parts of the United States.

Microsoft President Brad Smith he plans to unveil details about the initiative in Washington, D.C.

The company, based in Redmond, Washington, is calling for a combination of private and public investments to get about 2 million rural Americans online in the next five years.

Smith says the strategy would use TV white spaces, which are unlicensed and unused airwaves. He says the powerful bandwidth will allow wireless signals to travel over hills and through buildings and trees.

The company plans to partner with telecommunications companies that serve rural counties in 12 states. It's also asking for regulatory support from the Federal Communications Commission.

CONGRESS-SPENDING

GOP lawmaker pushes $900M for NY/NJ railroad infrastructure

WASHINGTON (AP) — A huge railroad and transit project to build new bridge and tunnel capacity for travel between New York and New Jersey would receive a whopping $900 million next year if a senior New Jersey Republican has his way.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen is moving to boost the New York and New Jersey Gateway project in large part by eliminating a popular $500 million infrastructure grant program championed by former President Barack Obama. That program funded transportation projects nationwide, including set-asides for rural areas.

Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican, also would earmark $400 million in mass transit grants toward a new tunnel under the Hudson River to service Amtrak and a New Jersey commuter rail line.

The move by the 12-term Republican is reminiscent of pork barrel politics of the recent past, when powerful lawmakers like Sen. Robert Byrd used the annual appropriations bills that fund the government to move billions of dollars into their states.

NISSAN-UNION

Rally opens union push at Nissan Motor plant in Mississippi

CANTON, Miss. (AP) — Pro-union workers at Nissan Motor Co.'s Mississippi plant cast themselves as underdogs Tuesday, but encouraged workers to believe supporters of the United Auto Workers could triumph in a vote on union representation.

"We will win," said Travis Parks, a Nissan employee and union supporter who lives in Carthage, Mississippi.

Those supporters filed petitions Monday with the National Labor Relations Board seeking the election, after years of seeking support at the 6,400-worker plant. The petition seeks an election on July 31 and Aug. 1, but the National Labor Relations Board will ultimately set a date if it certifies the petition.

Nissan managers say they believe a union would be bad for the company, but also say workers are free to choose. Nissan spokeswoman Parul Bajaj said the company will not be passive in the face of the organizing drive, signaling managers will try to dissuade workers from supporting the UAW.

AIRPORT WORKERS-LABOR DISPUTE

New York-area airports hit by workers strike

NEW YORK (AP) — Seven hundred workers, including baggage handlers, cleaners and customer service agents at three New York-area airports are going on strike.

The airport workers at Newark Liberty International Airport walked off the job at 9 p.m. Tuesday in a labor dispute with their employer, PrimeFlight, a subcontractor for several airlines.

The workers are alleging unfair labor practices. They're being represented by 32BJ Service Employees International Union.

A spokeswoman for the union says the workers plan to strike JFK International Airport and LaGuardia Airport this morning. Philadelphia International Airport also is targeted.

The job actions will continue over the next three days.

TAKATA EXPANSION

Takata adds new type of inflator to huge air bag recall

DETROIT (AP) — Takata is adding a new type of air bag inflator to the nation's largest automotive recall.

The company filed documents with the U.S. government adding 2.7 million vehicles to the recall from Ford, Nissan and Mazda, all with a type of inflator that previously was thought to be safe.

The affected vehicles are from the 2005 through 2012 model years.

Takata inflators can explode with too much force and spew shrapnel into drivers and passengers. At least 17 people have died and more than 180 injured due to the problem. The inflators have caused the largest automotive recall in U.S. history with 42 million vehicles and up to 69 million inflators being called back for repairs.

Takata uses the chemical ammonium nitrate to inflate air bags. But it can deteriorate when exposed to high airborne humidity and high temperatures. Previously the company believed that a drying agent called a desiccant stopped the chemical from degrading.

FINANCIAL FRAUD-SETTLEMENT

Harvard-grad financier gets 3 years in prison for $23M fraud

NEW YORK (AP) — An Ivy League-educated financier whose friends and family invested millions of dollars with her investment firms was sentenced on Tuesday to three years in prison after squandering more than $23 million, mostly through bad investments.

Forty-one-year-old Haena was sentenced in Manhattan federal court by Judge Ronnie Abrams, who said she had about as privileged a background as anyone she had ever sentenced.

"You squandered it all," the judge said of Park, whom the government described as having dangled her Wall Street success and Harvard degree to win the trust of relatives, close friends and former classmates.

The judge said she still didn't understand how Park "could lie and steal from those you loved" by soliciting investments beginning in September 2009 in companies that prosecutors said in court papers had "impressive-sounding names like Argenta Capital GP LLC and Phaetra Capital Management LP."

CONGRESS-CONSUMERS-ARBITRATION BAN

Republicans say they'll move to halt consumer watchdog rule

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican lawmakers have overturned more than a dozen regulations issued under President Barack Obama. Now, they're looking to do the same to a rule issued Monday that would let consumers band together to sue their banks or credit card companies rather than use a mediator to resolve a dispute.

The effort would be a first for this Republican-led Congress — overturning a rule issued during the presidency of Donald Trump.

Of course, the Trump administration isn't particularly fond of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which issued the rule. The administration has called for the agency's restructuring and the president's budget calls the agency an "unaccountable bureaucracy."

Two GOP senators, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Mike Crapo of Idaho, said Tuesday they intend to seek the repeal of the regulation through the Congressional Review Act, a law that allows Congress to review new federal regulations issued by government agencies and overturn them with a simple majority.

ALASKA MARIJUANA-FACEBOOK

Facebook takes down pages of some legal Alaska pot shops

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Facebook has shut down pages set up by several businesses licensed to legally sell marijuana in Alaska, severing what some shop owners consider a critical link to their customers.

The social media giant said its standards describe what users can post, and content promoting marijuana sales isn't allowed. The issue has popped up over the last few years in states that have legalized recreational and medical pot, often coming in waves, industry officials said.

Cary Carrigan, executive director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, said the industry has been forced to fight the same battles repeatedly as marijuana gains broader acceptance nationally.

The drug is legal for recreational use in eight states, but it remains illegal on the federal level. It wasn't clear why the crackdown in Alaska happened within the past couple weeks or what specifically prompted it.

But it comes as social media sites grapple with setting boundaries for what users can post. Twitter has announced efforts to address abusive behavior, while Facebook has said it would do more to help keep violent material and hate speech off the platform.

GYMBOREE STORES CLOSING

Gymboree closing 350 stores after filing for bankruptcy

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Children's clothing seller Gymboree Corp. is closing 350 stores as its works to restructure in bankruptcy.

The San Francisco-based company said Tuesday that it's mostly closing Gymboree and Crazy 8 stores. It also operates Janie and Jack stores. The company will have more than 900 locations after the stores are shut down.

Gymboree filed for bankruptcy protection in June. Traditional retailers have been struggling to deal with strong competition from online companies and slowing mall traffic.

The closing sales at are scheduled to begin next Tuesday.

PEBBLE MINE

EPA taking comments on lifting proposed mine restrictions

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken the first step toward reversing its proposed restrictions on large-scale mining near the headwaters of a major salmon fishery in southwest Alaska.

As part of a legal settlement reached in May with the Pebble Limited Partnership, the EPA pledged to initiate a process for withdrawing the proposed restrictions.

EPA announced Tuesday that it would hold a 90-day comment period on the intended withdrawal.

The agency also said it will consult with tribal governments in the Bristol Bay region, where the Pebble partnership has proposed developing a copper and gold mine.

EPA's proposal was criticized by conservationists and the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, who have sought protections for the region.

Pebble CEO Tom Collier welcomed EPA's action.