Four U.S. journalists detained in Bahrain: journalists group
A U.S. journalist and three members of her camera crew were detained in Bahrain on Sunday, Reporters Without Borders said on Monday, urging Bahrain to release the four American citizens “rapidly and without harm.” In a statement, the group described Anna Day and her three colleagues as experienced journalists, who had most recently worked on virtual reality documentaries in Egypt and Gaza. Bahraini police said earlier they had detained four foreign nationals. Bahrain’s interior ministry said in a statement the four were “suspected of offences including entering Bahrain illegally having submitted false information to border staff, and participating in an unlawful gathering.” The U.S. State Department said it was aware of reports that U.S. citizens had been arrested but declined further comment. A representative for Day’s family rejected any suggestion that the four were involved in any illegal behavior or non-journalistic activities. The Arabic-language Mira’at al-Bahrain (Bahrain Mirror) said the four were detained in Sitra, a Shi’ite village east of Manama, on Sunday while covering clashes between local demonstrators and security forces. The demonstration was meant to mark the fifth anniversary of widespread Arab Spring protests in 2011 mainly by Shi’ite Muslims demanding reforms and a bigger share in government. Those protests were put down violently by Bahrain security units with help from security forces from Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia. But the kingdom, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, continues to see bouts of unrest, especially in villages where Shi’ites are a majority. More:
Saudi Arabia, Russia to Freeze Oil Output Near Record Levels
Saudi Arabia and Russia agreed to freeze oil output at near-record levels, the first coordinated move by the world’s two largest producers to counter a slump that has pummeled economies, markets and companies. While the deal is preliminary and doesn’t include Iran, it’s the first significant cooperation between OPEC and non-OPEC producers in 15 years and Saudi Arabia said it’s open to further action. Oil pared gains after the accord was announced, signaling traders see no immediate end to the global supply glut. The deal to fix production at January levels, which includes Qatar and Venezuela, is the “beginning of a process” that could require “other steps to stabilize and improve the market,” Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi said in Doha Tuesday after the talks with Russian Energy Minster Alexander Novak. Qatar and Venezuela also agreed to participate, he said. More:
KAMPALA, Uganda — The Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) is nestled in a series of rolling hills outside of Entebbe, the town on the banks of Lake Victoria that served as the seat of government during Uganda’s time as a British protectorate. At the institute’s main entrance hang maps from old studies and magnified images of some of the viruses that have been isolated or discovered here, including West Nile virus. But it’s the Zika virus — which has infected tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people in the Americas in recent months and may be linked to a spate of children born with underdeveloped brains in Brazil — that’s now bringing Ugandan epidemiologists unexpected attention. UVRI scientists first discovered Zika in the blood of a rhesus monkey back in 1947. And while Uganda has never had an outbreak of the virus, the country’s unique approach to monitoring the spread of similar diseases could hold the key to stopping future epidemics in their tracks. Consider how Uganda dealt with the Ebola virus. Long before Ebola made its recent rampage across West Africa infecting more than 28,000 people, Uganda, in eastern Africa, had its own Ebola outbreak — two in fact, in 2012. Led by scientists at UVRI, however, the outbreaks were quickly identified and contained. Only 21 people died as a result — in contrast to more than 11,300 in West Africa in the past two years. “They were prepared for the outbreak,” said Michel Van Herp, an epidemiologist with the emergency medical group Doctors Without Borders. “They had had that kind of training before. They were not naive to those pathogens.” Uganda’s success in containing outbreaks is no accident. It is the product of a long history of cutting-edge infectious disease research, dating back to the founding of UVRI, then under a different name, by the U.S.-based Rockefeller Foundation in 1936 to stem the spread of yellow fever in East Africa. The institute passed into the hands of the East African Community in 1950 and then over to the Ugandan Ministry of Health in 1977, but it has continued to do groundbreaking work. Scientists here have discovered dozens of diseases and pioneered a viral surveillance system that has played a critical role in curbing potential epidemics.
Gordon and Bud Did It. Did You? Insider Trading Gets a Rethink
Insider trading used to seem so simple. Pass a tip: “Blue Horseshoe loves Anacott Steel.” Make a killing: “It’s all about the bucks, kid.” And, just maybe, get busted: “At that moment, man finds his character.” That, anyway, is the Hollywood version, circa 1987, in “Wall Street.” On the real Wall Street, insider trading has rarely been that clear. And now, the prickly legal questions around it — questions that have been around since the days of Gordon and Bud — could get even thornier. Almost three decades after the film, and seven years after the start of another dragnet that ensnared dozens, the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to take up the issue in a case involving brothers-in-law. But before that happens, Judge Jed S. Rakoff — who wrote the opinion headed to the Supreme Court — is getting another chance to weigh in. This week, Rakoff, a Manhattan federal court judge, is set to preside over a case that highlights a question that has many traders on edge: Just what is insider trading anyway? The answer might seem simple, but it’s not and never has been. Part of insider trading requires that tippers, or people who pass inside information, get a “benefit.” After a pair of appeals court rulings since December 2014, it’s now unclear what counts as a benefit. Cash? Yes. Career advice. No. But say the tipper and the trader are just brothers-in-law and no money is exchanged. Or roommates who occasionally share secrets. Is that insider trading? That’s what this trial is about. More:
Hedge Fund Managers Spot an Opportunity Amid Market Volatility
Stock markets are plunging. The price of oil is in turmoil. And hedge funds just came off their worst year since the peak of the financial crisis in 2008. But Adam Sender, a well-known collector of contemporary art who shuttered his hedge fund two years ago, just got back into the game. He is bucking the trend at a time when the establishment of new hedge funds is sharply lower than a year ago, according to the data provider Preqin. It may seem like an odd time to be landing investments for new hedge funds, but a handful of big-name managers are hauling in money from investors. Scott Bessent recently left George Soros’s family office to start a $4.5 billion firm called Key Square Group. Eric Cole, a former trader for David Tepper’s Appaloosa Management, has raised about $1 billion for his new firm, Warlander Asset Management. Anil Prasad, a former Citigroup foreign exchange trader, raised nearly $300 million with a co-founder for Silver Ridge Asset Management, regulatory filings show. Even John Paulson, who posted losses in several portfolios in 2015, has raised $600 million for a new distressed fund. These new funds stand in contrast to the rising number of hedge funds — in particular those that made wrong bets on foreign currencies, central bank interest rate moves and the price of oil — that are closing their doors to investors and winding down. The pace of hedge fund liquidation picked up in the last quarter of 2015, especially among funds that loaded up on the oil and gas junk bonds that got slammed by the collapse in energy prices. More:
Millennial Advice on How to Run a Bank
Leading a community bank, especially in the last decade, requires tremendous resilience and fortitude. Managing and motivating staff, ensuring regulatory compliance and boosting revenue and assets are undoubtedly a tough job. I admire CEOs who have preserved shareholder value, while also leading their banks through one of the toughest eras of American banking history. But now that we’re mostly out of the woods, it’s time for bank leaders to address three shortcomings in an industry that continues to change.
Millennials, like me, are well versed in changes in technology. From Nokia brick phones to iPhones, from cassette players to iPods, from slow, dial-up Internet to always having an instant connection to the Web, the world as we know it keeps shifting. We appreciate the never-ending innovation because we have experienced the related benefits time and time again. So as a millennial who champions change, I would like to shed light on three ways I would run your community bank differently.
Technology stocks selloff may turn IPO chill into IPO freeze
This winter was supposed to be Nutanix’s time to shine. The high-tech computing and storage company filed for a hotly anticipated initial public offering in December, ready to woo investors early in the New Year. But so far, Nutanix hasn’t been able to shake the chill of what is shaping up to be a largely barren season for IPOs. And with the battering technology stocks have suffered in the past couple of weeks, and the dismal performance of technology IPOs in the past couple of years, any idea of a springtime busy with technology offerings may also be wishful thinking. Eric Jensen, an IPO attorney for Cooley LLP, said his firm has “a pretty significant pipeline of deals,” with about 32 companies that have filed with regulators for IPOs, either confidentially or publicly. But he said plans by the five or so technology firms with a $1 billion-plus valuation in that queue, “are all stalled out.” For a graphic showing the number and value of U.S. technology IPOs, see here The cratering in technology stocks has also helped to push down the valuations of private tech companies and interest in investing in them, say capital markets experts. Fewer options for capital raising means that high-flying companies may need to rein in spending, delay some ambitious expansion plans and even lay off staff, according to investors and tech consultants. IPO experts also say they expect more startups will get acquired cheaply, and go the way of Good Technology, a mobile security company once valued at $1 billion and last year sold to Blackberry for $425 million. It had planned an IPO but that never got off the ground. “A lot of these companies are going to have to rein in their costs in order to survive,” said Matt Brady, co-founder and chief operating officer of investment firm Militello Capital.
Wait Two Years for That $65 Million Gulfstream Personal Jet
Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. says it’s unable to keep up with demand from the rich. Pay $65 million for the G650 or G650ER personal jets, and your wait to board them could be as long as two years, Scott Neal, Gulfstream’s senior vice president of worldwide sales and marketing, said in a Bloomberg TV interview Tuesday at the Singapore Air Show. The G650ER “has taken market share at the top end of the market. It’s really created a new market to itself,” Neal said. “The next available delivery for a new G650 or G650ER is a little over two years from now.” Savannah, Georgia-based Gulfstream is seeing such strong demand for its personal jets from corporations and chief executives that the General Dynamics Corp. unit is looking to increase production of planes in the G650 family, Neal said. Gulfstream is grabbing share from rivals with its flagship large-cabin aircraft as the market becomes more receptive to the usefulness of a private aircraft in running a business. More:
Two-Thirds of the US Government Basically Won’t Work for the Next Year
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell surprised a lot of people when, less than an hour after the death of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was announced, he declared that his seat shouldn’t be filled until a new president is sworn in in 2017. That would leave one of the nine seats on the court vacant for a full year or more, assuming even a relatively rapid confirmation of someone nominated immediately by President Obama’s successor. Surprising as it was, McConnell’s willingness to subject the court to a year of frequent 4-4 deadlocks — which could necessitate a re-argument of a case — is just another symptom of the overall dysfunction that virtually guarantees Washington will accomplish little or nothing in the next 12 months. That’s because, of the three branches of the federal government, there are now two that appear likely to be be seriously hobbled until 2017. With the Judicial branch in limbo, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan appeared on Fox News Sunday afternoon and said, in effect, that the Legislative branch isn’t likely to get much done, either. He suggested that no progress is possible on issues including government spending, the national debt and the federal deficit while President Obama is in office. Ryan laid out a five-point GOP agenda that includes, among other things, tax reform, energy development, regulatory reform, entitlement reform, repealing the Affordable Care Act (of course) and strengthening national security. “We don’t think the nation’s heading in the right direction, and we believe we owe it to our fellow citizens to offer an alternative,” he said. “If we had a pro-growth economic policy, there is no doubt in my mind that we could get this economy growing faster, people could get better jobs and get a rise in wages, but for our government. That’s why we’re going to roll an agenda out there and give the country a choice.” Given the broad swathe of policy areas that Ryan wants to address, it’s inconceivable that there aren’t some areas of agreement, or at least principled compromise, where the White House and the Republican-controlled Congress could come together and strike a deal. But Ryan didn’t even suggest the possibility of seeking common ground. Instead, he jumped straight to 2017.
Meet the man who can basically read President Obama’s mind
Outside the Oval Office is a small rectangular room with two side-by-side, nondescript wooden desks. In one sits President Obama’s personal secretary. In the other is Brian Mosteller, the man who sweats the small stuff so that the president doesn’t have to. Few have even heard of Mosteller, but if you look closely at photographs taken inside the White House, you can often glimpse him at the edge of the frame, omnipresent. From his chair, he is the only person in the White House with a direct view of the president at his desk. No one gets in the Oval Office without going past him. Mosteller’s official title is director of Oval Office operations, although a more apt name might be anticipator in chief. When Obama is in Washington, every move the president makes, every person he meets and every meeting he attends has been carefully orchestrated by Mosteller. He knows where Obama likes his water glass placed on the table at meetings and whom he’d want to sit beside. He knows how he prefers the height of a lectern. He researches a head of state’s favorite drink so that the president can offer it. He readies Obama’s remarks and sets them, open to the first page, wherever the president will be speaking. He tells Obama when a sock is bunched at his ankle or his shirt is wrinkled, before an interview. The president returned to Illinois last week to commemorate nine years since he announced his long-shot bid for the White House, a history-making moment of proportions few could have known then. There remain just a few people who were there in those early days. More:
Why Senate Republicans made a big mistake on the Scalia Supreme Court opening
Within hours of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell drew a line in the sand: No new justice would be confirmed until after the presidential election. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” The reason for McConnell’s hard line isn’t tough to figure out. It’s the same reason everyone from Ted Cruz to Jeb Bush in the Republican presidential race called for the postponement of any nomination until a new president is elected in November: It’s what the GOP base wants. The Republican base felt very strongly about the importance of judicial nominations before these past few years. But the Supreme Court rulings legalizing same-sex marriage and upholding the Affordable Care Act have convinced conservatives that the court is out of control and needs to be reined in by a Republican president committed to core principles. Given that view, it would be political death for a Republican presidential candidate to advocate that President Obama be given the right to make a pick — and that pick be given a full and fair hearing in front of the Senate. Ditto McConnell, who is regarded as “too establishment” by some tea party types looking to make trouble for him in the Senate. So I get why McConnell said what he said. I just think the way he went about it was a mistake — especially for a party desperately in need of proving to the public that it can be more than the anti-Obama/pro-Donald Trump party. Saying publicly — and on the same day that Scalia died — that replacing the justice was a non-starter, Senate Republicans sent a clear message to the American voters: We aren’t even going to make a show of playing ball on this one. This exchange between “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd and Cruz on Sunday is telling on that point:
How Long Do High Court Vacancies Usually Last?
With a battle brewing between Senate Republicans and the White House, we looked back at past Supreme Court vacancy lengths. This year could be historic. See chart of the last 60 high court vacancies and the time it took to fill them:
At Puerto Rico’s Power Company, a Recipe for Toxic Air, and Debt
As a lab director at Puerto Rico’s power authority, Abraham Ortiz uncovered what he suspected was a pattern of lawlessness in the authority’s purchasing department, a secretive place where officials controlled contracts to buy billions of dollars’ worth of oil. For years, he reported to his superiors, the authority bought cheap, residual oil that failed to meet federal clean-air standards, and faked tests to make it look like it had passed. Ledgers were falsified too, he said, to make it appear as though the authority had actually bought the higher-grade oil, which cost more. The higher price was then passed on to consumers. Giving some credence to Mr. Ortiz’s first complaints in the 1990s, the Environmental Protection Agency found that the oil being burned by the authority did, indeed, contain unacceptable levels of sulfur, which rained down in a toxic mix on neighborhoods near the power plants for years.
Where did the warnings get Mr. Ortiz? The utility closed his lab and sent him to work in another department, where he would not have oversight duties for the testing of oil. Now, about 25 years later, Mr. Ortiz is being heard. A committee of the Puerto Rico Senate has been pulling back the curtain on the mysterious purchasing department, the Fuel Procurement Office. And Mr. Ortiz, now retired, has been a star witness. “It was a scheme,” he told the senators last week, “and it went on for years.” The questions about the oil are part of a much larger mandate the Senate has taken on — determining how the authority became mired in more than $9 million in debt it says it cannot pay. The debt troubles could not be more pressing, as the legislature faces a deadline on Tuesday for a vote on the authority’s plan for renegotiating that debt. While it is clear that the authority’s financial downfall is complex and multifaceted, the question of whether it bought dirty oil while billing customers for clean oil stands out as one of the most charged issues it is facing. If true, the accusations would go beyond errors in judgment and amount to a decades-long fraud.
Indian-American judge who could replace Scalia worked on controversial cases for business
One possible contender to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court is an Indian-American appeals court judge, Sri Srinivasan, who has pro-business credentials and a stellar resume.
If he was nominated his background may make it more politically challenging for Republicans as they plan to block anyone put forward by President Barack Obama. Srinivasan, 48, has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since he was confirmed on a 97-0 bipartisan vote in the U.S. Senate in May 2013. Republican senators who supported him then would likely be asked to justify why they couldn’t back him for the Supreme Court. Many names are likely under consideration and the White House has not tipped its hand, but recent Supreme Court appointments have tended to be appeals court judges and the appeals court in Washington on which Srinivasan serves has often been a springboard to the high court. Scalia himself served on the court, as did other Supreme Court members Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The White House said on Sunday that Obama will wait until the U.S. Senate is back in session before making a nomination. The Senate returns from recess on Feb. 22. Republicans have called for Scalia’s seat to remain open so that the next president, who would take office in January 2017, can nominate a replacement. Other judges Obama could consider appointing include Paul Watford, a black man who serves on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Jacqueline Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American woman who serves on the same court as Watford. Little is known about Srinivasan’s views on divisive social issues like abortion and affirmative action. But as a senior Justice Department lawyer in 2013, he was part of the legal team that successfully urged the high court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that restricted the definition of marriage to heterosexual couples for the purposes of federal benefits. The ruling helped pave the way for the court’s ruling in June 2015 that legalized gay marriage nationwide.
Srinivasan could not be reached for comment. In private practice, prior to his appointment to the appeals court, Srinivasan successfully represented former Enron Corp CEO Jeff Skilling in a Supreme Court case. The Supreme Court narrowed the reach of the so-called honest services fraud law, invalidating one theory used by prosecutors for Skilling’s conspiracy conviction and ordering further appeals court review. Despite the high court ruling, Skilling’s conviction was later upheld by an appeals court. Srinivasan also represented Exxon Mobil Corp in a lawsuit alleging human rights abuses in Indonesia, and mining giant Rio Tinto in a similar case about its activities in Papua New Guinea. Both cases concerned in part whether a law called the Alien Tort Statute allows such cases to be heard in U.S. courts. The Exxon case is still ongoing. The Rio Tinto lawsuit was dismissed. His work during two stints with the O’Melveny and Myers law firm prompted expressions of concern from liberal groups and unions that normally back Democratic judicial nominations when he was nominated to the appeals court in 2012. He has had a lengthy career in public service, serving in the Justice Department during both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. Under Bush he had a junior role, while under Obama he was a political appointee serving as the top deputy to the solicitor general. Srinivasan was born in Chandigarh, India and grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, where his father was a professor at the University of Kansas. If appointed, he would be the first Indian-American to serve on the Supreme Court. More:
Republicans stand down for FBI investigation of Clinton server
Republicans are refusing to use the Benghazi playbook to go after Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Instead of launching formal investigations or propping up a new special committee to investigate the emails — as they did with the 2012 Libya terror attack — House Republicans have gone out of their way to avoid formal inquiries into allegations that classified information was mishandled on Clinton’s personal machine. “We have not had a pinpointed, targeted investigation of Hillary Clinton,” House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told The Hill this week. “The FBI’s got the lead on this.” Chaffetz’s comments came after The Hill and other media outlets reported on his committee’s investigation into federal recordkeeping, which is likely to touch on Clinton’s use of a “homebrew” email setup. But Chaffetz said that inquiry is only on the margins of the FBI’s investigation. “Some of the reporting’s kind of been on the extremes on this,” Chaffetz said. Separately, the House Science Committee had appeared to be moving toward in investigation into the private companies involved in the upkeep of Clinton’s server. But leaders of the committee backpedaled this month in response to a subtle public reprimand from the No. 2 House Republican, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). The almost catholic avoidance of an investigation into the emails appears to be a direct result of the heated politics around Benghazi, and the perception — held by many — that House leadership has spent more than a year of official time to attack Clinton’s presidential prospects. On the campaign trail, Clinton derides any focus on the contentious “homebrew” email setup as a politically driven attack from Republicans. “Before it was emails, it was Benghazi, and the Republicans were stirring up so much controversy about that,” the former secretary of State said during a Democratic presidential debate last weekend. “That was all a political ploy.” Republicans gave Clinton ammunition for those attacks last year, when McCarthy and others publicly suggested that the Benghazi panel was created to tear down Clinton’s campaign. More:
Scalia’s death could doom McDonnell and hurt Menendez
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell could wind up one of the biggest losers as a result of Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death and the potentially protracted battle shaping up over his replacement. The fall-out could also be felt in other public corruption cases making their way through the courts such as the one against Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and in what cases prosecutors choose to bring in the future over politicians’ actions on behalf of their financial backers. The impact could be most acute for McDonnell, who was sentenced to two years in prison after a jury convicted him in 2014 on 11 corruption charges stemming from his and his wife’s relationship with businessman and dietary supplement promoter Jonnie Williams. Last August, McDonnell was perhaps weeks away from being required to report to prison when the Supreme Court stepped in, granting him a stay that remains in effect today. Just one month ago, the high court formally agreed to hear McDonnell’s appeal, which argues that his convictions relied — at least in part — on “routine political courtesies” too commonplace to be considered the kinds of official acts that could support a charge of receiving bribes. Scalia was considered among the most receptive justices to McDonnell’s argument that his conviction on corruption charges improperly relied on the kind of favors that are commonplace on the American political scene. “Scalia was one of the most concerned members of the court about criminalizing politics and the line between what’s allowed and what’s not allowed,” said Rick Hasen, a law professor he University of California at Irvine. “I think his voice would have been a very important one in the McDonnell case.” If the court can’t muster five votes in Scalia’s absence to overturn McDonnell’s conviction, the appeals court ruling upholding his sentence is likely to kick in, and he could be sent to prison. More:
Eight years later, Bill Clinton is causing headaches for his wife again
FLORENCE, S.C. — Halfway through a 40-minute stump speech here, Bill Clinton arrived on the topic of Bernie Sanders’s proposal for single-payer health coverage — and became annoyed. “Every time we try to have a debate on this, they say: ‘You don’t understand. We’re creating a revolution. You’re getting in the way. You’re part of the establishment,’ ” Clinton drawled, with more than a hint of frustration in his voice. “God forbid we should have an honest discussion on it.” Then Clinton changed course again. “That’s not the point I want to make to you,” he said hastily, before refocusing on his principal assignment: delivering a positive message for his wife’s candidacy rather than attacking her opponent. In his post-White House years, Clinton has become a coveted Democratic surrogate. But when it comes to his wife’s campaigns, something else can happen: He seems to lose it. It was true in this crucial nominating state in 2008, where Hillary Clinton lost badly to Barack Obama. And it’s been true this month, when the former president has reemerged as a potent but unpredictable advocate who sometimes helps his wife’s cause — and sometimes doesn’t. More:
U.S. OK’s Alabama-based factory in Cuba; first since revolution
The Obama administration has approved the first U.S. factory in Cuba in more than half a century, allowing a two-man company from Alabama to build a plant assembling as many as 1,000 small tractors a year for sale to private farmers in Cuba. The Treasury Department last week notified partners Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal that they can legally build tractors and other heavy equipment in a special economic zone started by the Cuban government to attract foreign investment. Cuban officials already have publicly and enthusiastically endorsed the project. The partners said they expect to be building tractors in Cuba by the first quarter of 2017. “Everybody wants to go to Cuba to sell something and that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re looking at the problem and how do we help Cuba solve the problems that they consider are the most important problems for them to solve,” Clemmons said. “It’s our belief that in the long run we both win if we do things that are beneficial to both countries.” The $5 million to $10 million plant would be the first significant U.S. business investment on Cuban soil since Fidel Castro took power in 1959 and nationalized billions of dollars of U.S. corporate and private property. That confiscation provoked a U.S. embargo on Cuba that prohibited virtually all forms of commerce and fined non-U.S. companies millions of dollars for doing business with the island. Letting an American tractor company operate inside a Cuban government facility would have been unimaginable before Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared on Dec. 17, 2014, that they would restore diplomatic relations and move to normalize trade, travel and other aspects of the long-broken bilateral relationship. Since then, Obama has been carving exceptions into the embargo through a series of executive actions, and his administration now says they allow U.S. manufacturing at the Mariel port and special economic zone about 30 miles west of Havana. One exception allows U.S. companies to export products that benefit private and cooperative farmers in Cuba. Berenthal and Clemmons say they will sell only to the private sector. More:
MONTGOMERY—In a hearing before Judge Jacob Walker on October 20, 2015, attorney and radio host Baron Coleman said, “Simply put, I know nothing about the Grand Jury.” He continued, “I didn’t testify in front of the Grand Jury. I didn’t — I have never spoken to a grand juror. I have never spoken to anyone who appeared in front the Grand Jury.” This statement and others were given by Coleman in an attempt to have his subpoena quashed, prior to the first evidentiary hearing on prosecutorial misconduct in the Speaker Mike Hubbard felony case. Later in his testimony, he once again told Judge Walker, “I don’t know anything about a Grand Jury.” SEE TRANSCRIPT In his testimony before the court, Coleman stated twice that he had no knowledge of the Lee County Special Jury, which indicted Hubbard on October 17, 2014, on 23 felony counts of public corruption. However, in an affidavit given to Hubbard’s legal defense team, Coleman claimed he had between 50 and 100 conversations with Matt Hart, Chief of the Special Prosecutions Unit. In his affidavit, Coleman stated, “These conversations were in reference to the Mike Hubbard investigation, and the Lee County Special Grand Jury.” During his testimony in October 2015, Coleman repeatedly told the trial judge that nothing he could tell the court would rise to the standard on prosecutorial misconduct under Nova Scotia. “…Nothing I can testify to is going to fall under the Bank of Nova Scotia standard under any circumstances.” More:
RUMORS, RUMORS, RUMORS
It’s no coincidence that the Goat Hill rumor machine spun into high gear two weeks ago as lawmakers returned to the State House for the 2015 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature. Needless to say, the ongoing drama involving the criminal case against House Speaker Mike Hubbard was fodder for two of the most interesting rumors churned out last week. The first rumor gained some traction after lawmakers decided to reschedule their traditional Spring Break from March 21 to March 28 – the date Hubbard’s trial is scheduled to begin in Lee County. In its first iteration, the rumor had it that lawmakers were going to try to pass both budgets as quickly as possible and then adjourn the session before March 28 and the start of the trial. Members of the House conceded there was some discussion of an early adjournment, but when members of the Senate were asked, they responded with derision and/or laughter.One senator told IAP that an early adjournment “doesn’t make us look good,” since lawmakers would knock-down their annual salaries in the $46,000 neighborhood, while only meeting for a month and a half. Believers in the early adjournment rumor, noted that the Senate had already begun to take up sunset bills on just the fourth legislative day, as evidence there was a push to early adjournment. Normally, sunset bills are taken up on the tenth legislative day, but as one observer explained, there’s not much else on the Senate calendar early in the session, so the leadership decided to deal with sunset legislation a little earlier than normal. As the rumor of an early adjournment began to die off, a second iteration popped up. It claimed that lawmakers may extend their Spring Break from one-week to three-weeks, beginning March 28, which would allow Speaker Hubbard to attend his trial in Opelika while giving him a break from his role as presiding officer in the House. We’ll wait and see. While members of the House may be more sympathetic to Hubbard’s dilemma, members of the Senate appear much less inclined to accommodate the embattled speaker. And then there’s the second big rumor of the week and it’s a whim-doozy. Multiple sources told IAP that a mock trial was staged in the Hubbard case last December, in an effort by the state to determine how strong its case is against the speaker. Our sources said that former U.S. Attorney Redding Pitt, who died at his Montgomery home February 7, acted as the prosecutor in the December exercise. As the story goes, the jury in the mock trial took only two-hours to reach a verdict and that verdict was guilty on all 23 counts. We can’t help but to wonder whether or not Matt Hart and company took good notes on just how the late Mr. Pitt presented the case.
Alabama Legislative Agenda Preview: Feb. 15-19, 2016
The Legislative Session will resume Tuesday, with the House convening at 1 p.m. and the Senate an hour later. Many of the bills which passed through committee last week will likely make it to the floor this week, including the “Uniform Wage and Right-to-Work Act,” which would prohibit cities from raising the minimum wage, and a billproviding for distilleries to sell their product for off-premise consumption.
Further, the House will renew its discussion of HB45, the legislation sponsored by Rep. April Weaver (R-Shelby) to outlaw the sale of fetal tissue, which did not come up for a vote last Thursday. Though a handful of committee meetings will be held prior to the start of session Tuesday, the majority will be held Wednesday. The House Committee on Economic Development and Tourism will meet to tackle a slew of alcohol-related bills, including HB176, which would allow Alabama brewpubs to sell for off-premise consumption. A public hearing on the bill will likely garner a wide array of input. The House Committee on Ethics and Campaign Finance will meet to consider HB68, a bill aimed at preventing “an agency of the Executive Department of the state,” which is funded via the General Fund or the Education Trust Fund, from lobbying or entering into agreements with outside lobbyists. The “Alabama Heritage Protection Act” will again be the topic of discussion when the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee meets on Tuesday to complete a round of public discussion which began last week. The committee will also look at SB184, a bill naming the Lane Cake the official state cake. The Judiciary Committee will meet to examine SB114, a Sen. Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville) sponsored bill aimed at regulating “fantasy contests,” and SB14, a bill from Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) stating that the lawful possession of a firearm doesn’t “in and of itself” constitute disorderly conduct.
Can the South’s Love Affair With a New York Yankee Last?
BATON ROUGE, La. — Some 10,000 fans waited at least an hour in line late last week to fill an arena here along the Mississippi River. And when the star attraction – Donald Trump – entered from behind a blue curtain, the roar was so piercing, the stomping so loud, you would have thought that a LSU player had just hit a game-winning basket. But Trump was here to talk about another kind of winning: his easy-to-grasp, sports-arena portrayal of an America that doesn’t “beat anybody anymore.” First stop, just south of the border. “Who’s going to pay for the wall?” he called out. “Mexico!” the crowd shouted as one.
Fresh off his huge win in New Hampshire, Trump is taking his angry populist message to the South, the next political battleground and a region where recent surveys have him leading by 10 or more points nearly everywhere. But Trump’s somewhat defensive performance in the rancorous GOP debate in South Carolina Saturday night—punctuated by the crowd’s boos, especially over his attacks on President George W. Bush, who is still popular there—could create an opening for his rivals in the South. Jeb Bush, who turned in perhaps his strongest performance yet, is certainly banking on that in the South Carolina primary on Feb. 20, and he can count on the history of that state supporting his father and brother going back 25 years. (“I’m sick and tired of [Trump] going after my family,” Bush said Saturday to cheers.)
Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, is presenting himself as the candidate who has the foreign policy chops in a region that favors a strong military. John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, is appealing to moderates and is hoping that publicity following his second place finish in New Hampshire will bring the political oxygen his cash-starved campaign needs. Ted Cruz, the Texas senator, handily bested Trump in the Iowa caucuses with an impressive ground game that appeared to open daylight between Trump and the base followers he’s trying to win over—in particular the evangelicals and social conservatives who are so plentiful in the South. That’s why Tony Perkins, a former state legislator from Louisiana who heads the Family Research Council, believes that the Iowa Caucus results promise more of the same for Cruz throughout the South and in Texas, which holds its delegate-rich primary on March 1. Cruz has led polls in Texas. More:
The investigation and pretrial drama of the much-anticipated trial of Speaker Mike Hubbard has proven time and again that the gods of carnage are happily at play in this most operatic tale. One could dare find delight in watching these merry pranksters at work, were the consequences not so dire for our state. Many of the men and women who enabled Hubbard’s rise to power, will also be numbered among those who stirred chaos in an attempt to keep him from facing justice. But they should be aware that he will sacrifice any friend and coddle any foe to avoid trial. The butcher’s bill cannot yet be tallied with any accuracy, as the battle winnows the players with regularity. The slaughter is born forward by the machinations of Hubbard’s political and legal machine. At this moment, Alabama’s justice system itself is under siege, as Hubbard and his allies employ every imaginable argument, as to why his 23 indictments on felony public corruption should be dismissed. Hubbard, the man who promised his Republican colleagues and the citizens of our State, that he would end corruption in State government, has become the epitome of all that is evil in public life. He has manipulated the legislature for personal gain, and now seeks to pervert the legal process to serve his selfish needs. As the State recounted in its recent motion, “Hubbard has filed several motions to dismiss for 14 months now. His theories have ranged from improper Grand Jury empanelment to the Grand Jury exceeding its jurisdiction to the expiration of the Grand Jury’s term to selective prosecution to the unconstitutionality of the Alabama Ethics Act. This court has properly denied nearly all of Hubbard’s motions.” Hubbard’s renewal of his motion to dismiss on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct and fraud, is based on an affidavit written by Baron Coleman. The prosecution stated, “Indeed, just hours after the Court entered an order denying three of Hubbard’s motions to dismiss, Hubbard filed his Renewed Motion to Dismiss for Prosecutorial Misconduct and Fraud…is based entirely on the allegations contained in the Coleman affidavit.” Coleman has said his affidavit did not accuse Deputy Attorney General Matt Hart of prosecutorial misconduct, and prosecutors agree. But it is written in such a manner as to leave the impression he had. Coleman has said he was forced to come forward, but he has yet to explain what force was weighing on him, at least not publicly. More:
WEEKEND POLITICS WRAP — Quite an eventful weekend on the political front with the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the reemergence of George W. Bush on the campaign trail for his brother in South Carolina. On the SCOTUS front, Republicans are taking a big gamble in saying they will absolutely not confirm — or even consider — any Obama nominee. It’s a no-brainer for 2016 candidates vying for staunch conservative primary voters.
But the GOP has a big pile of seats up in 2016 in states won at least once by Obama including Ohio, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Florida. If Obama puts up a consensus nominee, someone like Sri Srinivasan, and Republicans stonewall, things could get even tougher in those swing states and the GOP’s Senate majority could be even more at risk. The theory is that the hardline stance will drive up base voters in the GOP but it will pump up the opposition as well. Dicey play.
In South Carolina on Monday night, George W. Bush took repeated veiled shots at Donald Trump, arguing that the real estate mogul can’t win in November and can’t be trusted in the Oval Office: “We do not need someone in the Oval Office who mirrors and inflames our anger and frustration.”
Will Dubya drive his brother to a South Carolina victory? Probably not. Jeb Bush is at least 20 points behind Trump. But could he help push him up into the top three? Quite possibly. And if Bush trails only Trump and Cruz (who are beating the tar out of each other) he could legitimately argue that he is the establishment’s last best hope heading into Super Tuesday.
YET MORE TREASURY TALK — Nope. Still not over. Per a Wall Streeter on the subject of a Hillary Clinton Treasury Secretary: “On the subject of Laura Tyson — does it hurt her in any way that she has been on the Morgan Stanley Board for the better part of 20 years — including leading up to and during the Financial Crisis? Maybe not — but just asking … ”
LEFT STARTS A PETITION — Via the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Revolving Door Project, Americans For Financial Reform, Rootstrikers, and Public Citizen’s Congress Watch: “Wall Street influence is a major issue in the 2016 election. One of the most consequential things a president can do is appoint people who have a record of challenging Wall Street power. … As Senator Elizabeth Warren says: Personnel is policy.
“Please give the public some specific examples of people you would consider for key posts that our nation relies on to challenge Wall Street power — including Treasury Secretary, Attorney General, and SEC Chair. And please be transparent about factors you will use when making appointments for these key positions.” http://bit.ly/1Tmo1yx
MORE NAMES — Via a former Treasury official: “Depending on where the economy is they might want a progressive economist – Alan Krueger. He knows Treasury, he knows the Clintons (was Chief Economist at the Dept. of Labor in Clinton Admin.), was CEA Chair and he has been confirmed by both the Finance Committee and the Banking Committee (Treasury Secretary only goes thru Finance). … I strongly agree that Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Sheryl Sandburg, Lael Brainard, Neal Wolin are all great short-listers, but I would add Krueger to the list as well.”
From Tyler Gellasch, of Myrtle Makena, LLC and a former senior Senate aide: “Doesn’t Gary Gensler have to be the clubhouse favorite? It’s hard to argue he’s not extremely qualified or confirmable. He’s had private sector experience, senior roles at Treasury (including undersecretary), and chaired the CFTC. Most progressives still love him from his work at the CFTC, while K Street and Wall Street types know he’s usually pretty reasonable.
“I wouldn’t expect much of a confirmation problem either. In his previous three confirmations, he’s sailed through the Senate twice on voice votes and lost only 6 votes on the third. Oh, and perhaps most importantly, he’s already working for Secretary Clinton’s campaign.”
2016 MADNESS ROCKING STOCK MARKET — WSJ’s Jerry Seib: “Financial markets are in a precarious state, while the underlying U.S. economy looks increasingly shaky. And the presidential campaign appears to be making things worse. Damage is being done on three fronts. The campaign is rewarding candidates who talk down the state of the economy, adding to both consumer and investor jitters.
“It has scared financial markets by making front-runners of the two contenders — Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders — who offer the most radical economic formulas. And a stilted campaign debate is providing only sketchy discussion of what any of the candidates actually would do on fiscal and tax policy if they win.” http://on.wsj.com/1StiUfD
HOT CLICK: BIG SHORT POD CAST — In this week’s “Off Message” podcast, Glenn Thrush chats with Adam McKay, director of “The Big Short,” nominated for five Oscars including best picture. McKay, the 47 year old best director and best adapted screenplay nominee, discusses the impact of the financial crisis on the 2016 presidential race with Thrush — and traces the candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders back to what happened on Wall Street.
McKay weighs in on Sanders’ Democratic primary battle with Hillary Clinton, evaluates the Obama administration’s record on Wall Street prosecutions, and reveals how Elizabeth Warren reacted to the Big Short. Listen to the full interview and get every episode by subscribing to the podcast on iTunes: http://apple.co/20XmGCU Or Soundcloud: http://bit.ly/246tEEP Full story: http://politi.co/1LqLSFx
COULD BLOOMBERG ACTUALLY WIN? — NY mag’s Jonathan Chait: “One reason Bloomberg’s presidential ambitions have always been so comically detached from reality is that he fills a space on the political spectrum that is overserved (socially liberal, fiscally conservative) whereas the actual unmet political demand is just the opposite (socially conservative, fiscally liberal). … But if Trump and Sanders win their nominations, then the opposite would suddenly hold true. Instead of the socially liberal — fiscally conservative set having too much representation, it would suddenly have too little.
“A candidate who is neither a socialist nor a racist would have a large niche. Bloomberg faces a logistical challenge that is perhaps insurmountable: He would need to start getting his name on the ballot in early March, and he’s probably not going to know the major-party nominees by then. He would certainly need Sanders as the Democratic nominee, and probably Trump as the Republican nominee as well, to have a viable constituency. But if he did somehow find that combination awaiting him, the long-clogged lane he occupies in the center might suddenly break open for him.” http://nym.ag/1SQ0KW9
OBAMA SCOTUS SHORT LIST — POLITICO’s Edward-Isaac Dovere: “President Barack Obama has a proven formula for getting big, politically charged nominations through Republicans in the Senate — and close observers say that now points to Sri Srinivasan as his likeliest Supreme Court choice, with Loretta Lynch suddenly lighting up chatter as a potential sleeper candidate. … In thinking about Antonin Scalia’s possible replacement, they look at how Obama won previous confirmations, including the two that Republicans most wanted to stop: Lynch as attorney general and Sylvia Mathews Burwell as Health and Human Services secretary, who each glided through …
“With those and others, Obama picked a nominee who would be a historic first or hail from a politically charged demographic, promoted their work with or, better, for Republicans and pointed out that the Senate had already confirmed the individual for a previous job. … Srinivasan, a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, checks every box — which is why he’d already been considered a shoo-in for the high court if Ruth Bader Ginsburg had stepped down before the end of Obama’s term. But if Srinivasan doesn’t want to sign up for what could be a year in limbo or if Obama decides to go with the more politically potent choice, well-connected lawyers say Lynch makes almost as much sense” http://politi.co/1okHJ14
FEAR EASES — Reuters: “Asian shares extended their gains on Tuesday as a combination of stabilizing Chinese markets, a rebound in oil prices and solid U.S. consumption data drove investors to look for bargains after last week’s rout. … U.S. retail sales data published on Friday showing firm growth allayed fears – at least for now – that the U.S. economy could be dragged into recession as growth stumbles in many parts of the world. Sentiment on the U.S. currency also improved … Oil prices gained on news of a rare private meeting of top officials from the world’s biggest oil producers spurred speculation of an eventual deal to tackle a deep supply glut” http://reut.rs/1U4LUdk
GOLDMAN: SELL GOLD — Bloomberg: “Goldman Sachs Group Inc. says it’s time to bet against gold as bullion’s rally to the highest level in a year isn’t justified, backing the bearish call with a comment from a former U.S. leader in a report that was issued, appropriately enough, on Presidents’ Day. Prices tumbled. Gold will slump back to $1,100 an ounce in three months and $1,000 an ounce in 12 months, analysts including Jeffrey Currie and Max Layton wrote in the report that was dated Feb. 15 and received on Tuesday.
“It was headlined with a remark from former President Franklin D. Roosevelt. There’s ‘nothing to fear but fear itself,’ the analysts entitled the seven-page note, channeling comments from Roosevelt’s 1933 inauguration when the U.S. economy was being ravaged by the Great Depression. ‘It’s time to sell the fear barometer,’ the bank said, and recommended shorting gold.”
SCOTUS FIGHT WOULD LIGHT UP JUDICIARY — WSJ’s Siobhan Hughes: “Even if the Senate were to consider … Obama’s selection to succeed Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, the nominee would first have to confront the polarized politics of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Already the panel’s chairman, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, has joined Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) in saying that the next president, not Mr. Obama, should have the right to fill the vacancy … Should Mr. Grassley decided to proceed with a confirmation hearing, the committee’s review would come with a partisan edge.
“The Judiciary Committee is divided over policies on immigration, guns, presidential power and criminal justice. Mr. Grassley, who has never yet held a hearing on a Supreme Court nominee, has an investigative bent, which can translate into prolonged and sometimes divisive requests for information. Many of the committee members are lawyers, and are unabashed about public fights over legal matters” http://on.wsj.com/1okIk2O
ECONOMISTS RIP SANDERS’ PLANS — NYT’s Jackie Calmes: “With his expansive plans to increase the size and role of government, Senator Bernie Sanders has provoked a debate not only with his Democratic rival for president, Hillary Clinton, but also with liberal-leaning economists who share his goals but question his numbers and political realism. The reviews of some of these economists, especially on Mr. Sanders’s health care plans, suggest that Mrs. Clinton could have been too conservative in their debate last week when she said that his agenda in total would increase the size of the federal government by 40 percent. …
“The increase could exceed 50 percent, some experts suggest, based on an analysis by a respected health economist that Mr. Sanders’s single-payer health plan could cost twice what the senator … asserts, and on critics’ belief that his economic assumptions are overly optimistic. … By the reckoning of the left-of-center economists, none of whom are working for Mrs. Clinton, the proposals would add $2 trillion to $3 trillion a year on average to federal spending … ‘The numbers don’t remotely add up,’ said Austan Goolsbee, formerly chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, now at the University of Chicago” http://nyti.ms/1RHvbMG
COMMODITIES POP — FT’s Henry Sanderson and David Sheppard: “Commodities from metals to oil rallied as the People’s Bank of China moved to ease concerns about the country’s currency, triggering a broad rally that lifted stock markets and raw materials. … Nickel, a metal used in stainless steel, rose 6.7 per cent to $8,260 a tonne on Monday on the London Metal Exchange, its biggest move in two months. Iron ore, the steelmaking ingredient, rose $2.40 to $45.60 a tonne. … The commodities bounce came as the renminbi rose the most against the dollar since 2005 following comments by Zhou Xiaochuan, PBoC governor, that ruled out a one-off devaluation. http://on.ft.com/1RHx3F3
TROUBLE FOR HILLARY IN NEVADA? — WP’s David Weigel and John Wagner: “Less than a week before the Nevada caucuses, Hillary Clinton’s political nightmare came to the Origin India restaurant near the Las Vegas Strip. More than 100 activists were packed between a curry buffet and a canvas sign for Bernie Sanders. They talked. They made caucus commitments. They cheered as a ‘multi-ethnic coalition’ of speakers asked them to dump the long-time Democratic presidential front-runner. …
“Until quite recently, Clinton’s campaign saw Nevada as a chance for a face-saving victory after an anticipated defeat in New Hampshire. But that defeat turned into a trouncing. Now, the Sanders campaign is trying to prove that she can be beaten anywhere. Nevada, where he is facing off against organized labor leaders and a Latino-heavy electorate, has become the first test. Clinton’s hopes rested on her overwhelming advantage among voters of color — part of a ‘firewall’ her aides have claimed in many states that follow overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire on the electoral calendar” http://wapo.st/1RHxgbh
President Obama today continues to host a summit in Rancho Mirage, California with Southeast Asian leaders. He will hold a press conference at 4:35 PM ET, and I will live stream it on the website. In the evening, Obama will return to Washington.
The House will return on February 23rd. The Senate will return February 22nd.
How to Determine if You Can Claim the Premium Tax Credit
The premium tax credit is a credit for certain people who enroll, or whose family member enrolls, in a qualified health plan offered through a Marketplace. Claiming the premium tax credit may increase your refund or lower the amount of tax that you would otherwise owe.
If you did not get advance credit payments in 2015, you can claim the full benefit of the premium tax credit that you are allowed when you file your tax return. You must file Form 8962 to claim the PTC on your tax return.
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For at least one month of the year, all of the following were true:
- An individual in your tax family was enrolled in a qualified health plan offered through the Marketplace.
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- For 2015, your household income is at least 100 percent but no more than 400 percent of the Federal poverty line for your family size.
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If you received the benefit of advance credit payments in 2015, you must file a tax return to reconcile the amount of advance credit payments made on your behalf with the amount of your actual premium tax credit. You must file an income tax return for this purpose even if you are otherwise not required to file a return. You’ll file Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit, with your tax return to reconcile the credit.
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