To Maintain Supply of Sex Slaves, ISIS Pushes Birth Control
DOHUK, Iraq — Locked inside a room where the only furniture was a bed, the 16-year-old learned to fear the sunset, because nightfall started the countdown to her next rape.During the year she was held by the Islamic State, she spent her days dreading the smell of the ISIS fighter’s breath, the disgusting sounds he made and the pain he inflicted on her body. More than anything, she was tormented by the thought she might become pregnant with her rapist’s child. It was the one thing she needn’t have worried about.
Soon after buying her, the fighter brought the teenage girl a round box containing four strips of pills, one of them colored red. “Every day, I had to swallow one in front of him. He gave me one box per month. When I ran out, he replaced it. When I was sold from one man to another, the box of pills came with me,” explained the girl, who learned only months later that she was being given birth control. It is a particularly modern solution to a medieval injunction: According to an obscure ruling in Islamic law cited by the Islamic State, a man must ensure that the woman he enslaves is free of child before having intercourse with her. Islamic State leaders have made sexual slavery as they believe it was practiced during the Prophet Muhammad’s time integral to the group’s operations, preying on the women and girls the group captured from the Yazidi religious minority almost two years ago. To keep the sex trade running, the fighters have aggressively pushed birth control on their victims so they can continue the abuse unabated while the women are passed among them. More than three dozen Yazidi women who recently escaped the Islamic State and who agreed to be interviewed for this article described the numerous methods the fighters used to avoid pregnancy, including oral and injectable contraception, and sometimes both. In at least one case, a woman was forced to have an abortion in order to make her available for sex, and others were pressured to do so.
Oil back below $40 as Iran dashes hopes for quick deal on output
Oil fell around 3 percent on Monday after Iran dashed hopes of a coordinated production freeze any time soon, returning bearish sentiment to the market over a supply glut that has sent prices crashing.
Global benchmark Brent crude futures LCOc1 fell back below $40 a barrel, trading at $39.20 at 1157 GMT, down $1.19 on Friday’s close. Brent hit a 12-year low of $27.10 in January. U.S. crude CLc1 was down $1.13 at $37.37 a barrel. “Oil is down because Iran said they would only join the output freeze group once they reached production of 4 million barrels a day (bpd),” said Tamas Varga, oil analyst at London brokerage PVM Oil Associates. He was referring to comments by Iran’s oil minister Bijan Zaganeh on Sunday that the OPEC member would join discussions after its output reached that level.
Iran’s oil exports are due to reach 2 million bpd in the Iranian month that ends on March 19, up from 1.75 million in the previous month, he said. Zanganeh is meeting Russian counterpart Alexander Novak in Tehran on Monday. Saudi Arabia appeared to have stuck to a preliminary deal with some other producers to freeze output, as its crude production held steady in February at 10.22 million bpd, an industry source told Reuters. OPEC members and non-OPEC producers are likely to hold their next meeting to discuss an output freeze in mid-April in Doha, OPEC sources told Reuters. A March 20 meeting in Russia, which was part of an earlier plan, now looks unlikely. Worries about demand fundamentals moved back into the spotlight as investment bank Morgan Stanley warned that a slowing global economy and high production would prevent any sharp rises in oil prices. “Oil prices now seem to have bottomed, even though they are likely to stay subdued for the rest of this year before starting to move higher in 2017,” the U.S. bank said in a research note. It added that cheap oil had not provided the boost to growth that many had hoped for.
“When oil prices are falling below production costs, the income gains for consumers will be smaller than the costs to producers, and falling oil prices become a negative-sum game,” it said. In a sign that investors are growing more skeptical about a rebound in oil prices, ICE data showed on Monday that speculators had cut net long Brent crude positions by 9,500 contracts in the week ending March 8.
Conservatives Face an Impossible Choice
The accelerating likelihood that Donald Trump will win the Republican presidential nomination outright thrusts an agonizing dilemma on Republican politicians. Leave aside their own personal feelings about Trump. The most likely consequence of a Trump nomination is a severe Republican defeat in November, and not a defeat for Trump alone. Some significant number of Republicans just won’t vote for Trump. When people don’t want to vote for the top of a ticket, they often stay home altogether, dooming every close race lower down on the ticket. Republicans have Senate seats at risk in Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—sufficient to put the Republican majority in question. The House looks safer, as does the Republican hold on state governments, but who knows? Trump is most objectionable to the most reliable and loyal Republican voters, exactly the kind of people who vote Republican for every office all the way down to county commissioner. Perhaps the very most reliable and most loyal will show up no matter what, skip the top line, and otherwise vote the straight ticket. Or perhaps not. So talk is rising in the Republican world of some kind of independent candidacy, using some minor-party ballot line. It’s hoped that such a candidate—Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska? Mitt Romney?—would offer anti-Trump Republicans a reason to show up to vote, and thus save the Senate.
That’s the hope. But the third-party solution has risks, too, bigger risks than anyone is calculating right now. When people bolt their party, the party changes behind them. Take, for example, the Progressive Republicans. When they bolted the party to follow Teddy Roosevelt’s independent campaign in 1912, they left conservatives in control of the Republican apparatus. Before 1912, it was very much an open question whether the reformist movements of the 20th century would find their home in the Republican or Democratic Party. After 1912, the most important of those reforms would be carried out at the federal level by Democrats, and opposed by Republicans. When Republicans regained the White House in 1920, it would be under the leadership of the man who’d delivered the nominating speech for William Howard Taft at the 1912 convention. The young people who’d looked to Teddy Roosevelt for change in 1912 would in many cases end up as followers of his cousin Franklin in 1932—most notably, the former Bull Moose who ran most of the early New Deal, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes. More:
Here’s What Warren Buffett Thinks Caused the Financial Crisis
Buffett admits that he didn’t see the financial crisis coming until it was too late. The National Archives on Friday released a bunch of new interviews and other documents that came out of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. The FCIC interviewed lots of people about the financial crisis, everyone from CEOs like Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein toThe Big Short author Michael Lewis. Among the interviews released on Friday was one conducted with legendary investor and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Warren Buffett. In the interview, which took place in May 2010, Buffett admits that, like most everyone else, he didn’t see the financial crisis coming until it was too late. Buffett also says that, while he didn’t know what the government would do, his investments during the financial crisis in General Electric GE 1.34% and Goldman Sachs GS 1.93% were essentially based on the belief that the government wouldn’t let such big firms fail. Buffett also gave a long, thoughtful response to the question of what caused the bubble that caused the financial crisis. Here’s a transcript: Brad Bondi [financial crisis inquiry commission]: What do you think it was, if you were to point to one of the single driving causes behind this bubble? What would you say? Warren Buffett: Well, there’s a very interesting aspect of this, which will take a minute or two to explain; but what my former boss, Ben Graham, made an observation, 50 or so years ago to me that it really stuck in my mind and now I’ve seen evidence of it. He said, “You can get in a whole lot more trouble in investing with a sound premise than with a false premise.” If you have some premise that the moon is made of green cheese or something, it’s ridiculous on its face. If you come out with a premise that common stocks have done better than bonds—and I wrote about this in a Fortune article in 2001—because there was a famous little book in 2001 by Edgar Lawrence Smith—in 1924 by Edgar Lawrence Smith that made a study of common stocks versus bonds. And it showed—he started out with the idea that bonds would over perform during deflation and common stocks would over perform during inflation. He went back and studied a whole bunch of periods and, lo and behold, his original hypothesis was wrong. He found that common stock always over performed. And he started thinking about that and why was that. Well, it was because there was a retained earnings factor. More:
Goldman revamps electronic stock trading to catch rival
Raj Mahajan achieved a rare when he rejoined Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) last year with the coveted title of partner, the Wall Street bank’s highest rank. Then he got to work on fixing the pipes.
That plumbing has to do with the technology Goldman uses to route stock orders to exchanges and private trading pools. The bank has long been one of the top two stock brokerages in terms of revenue and customer rankings. But in recent years Goldman’s status slipped in electronic trading because its technology did not keep up with client demands for ever-faster trades. Goldman hired the tech-savvy Mahajan to revamp the business in March 2015. Since then, he has hired dozens of technologists and support staff to elevate Goldman’s position in a fast-growing slice of the market and win back business from its chief competitor, Morgan Stanley (MS.N). “When we look at how Goldman wants to be positioned for the future, simply put, we want to deliver the best execution quality to our clients, which is tantamount to saying we need the best technology,” Mahajan said in an interview. The 43-year-old was promoted to co-head of global execution services last month. He began his career at Goldman Sachs in 1996 as a commodities analyst, but left the bank in 2000 to launch a trading technology firm with R. Martin Chavez, who is now Goldman’s chief information officer. Their startup, Kiodex, was bought in 2004 by financial software maker Sungard, where Mahajan became president of global trading. He later became chief executive officer of high-frequency firm Allston Trading before rejoining Goldman as partner, a rank held by around 1.5 percent of Goldman employees. Mahajan said the idea of fixing the cracks in Goldman’s pipes to make trades move faster and more efficiently find the best liquidity is what motivated him to return. “I thought that played right into my skills,” he said. More:
What Would Breaking Up the Banks Even Look Like?
When regulators from around the world—including the U.S. and the E.U.—determined in 2008 that the banking system was terribly under-regulated, they all suggested a similar fix: Separate the departments involved in investment banking from those that deal with more run-of-the-mill insured deposit-taking. But recently there has been some back-sliding on such separation, and finance is still dominated by giant banks that mix the two. Yet separation makes a lot of sense. Why should to two such wildly different activities as investment banking and retail banking be bundled together in the same institution? It’s obvious what JPMorgan gains: a nice piece of ballast to offset embarrassing, high-stakes trading mishaps. But what about consumers? How does an ordinary person benefit from putting her deposit into a complex global bank? I have asked that question to experts for more than a decade and have yet to hear a satisfying answer. Breaking up the banks in this way isn’t a proposal confined to the political fringes. Neel Kashkari, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis—as well as a former banker and a Treasury official during the brunt of the crisis—argued in a recent speech that the too-big-to-fail problem has not been solved by current regulation: The failure of more than one bank in an economic downturn would still have enormous economic costs. His suggested options include breaking up large banks, turning large banks into public utilities, and taxing leverage to reduce systemic risk. He gave short shrift to those who argue that remedies like this could be disruptive, saying, “Those potential shortcomings must be weighed against the actual risks and costs that we know exist today…Better and safer are reasons enough to act.” More:
Justice Department warns local courts about unlawful fines and fees
The Justice Department is asking local courts across the country to be wary of how they slap poor defendants with fines and fees to fill their jurisdictions’ coffers, warning that such practices often run afoul of the U.S. Constitution and have serious real-world consequences. In a letter that will be sent Monday morning to the chief judges and court administrators in all 50 states, Vanita Gupta, the head of the department’s Civil Rights Division, and Lisa Foster, director of the Office for Access to Justice, wrote that illegal enforcement of fines and fees had been receiving increased attention in recent years, and the Justice Department had a “strong interest” in making sure the rights of citizens were protected. “Individuals may confront escalating debt; face repeated, unnecessary incarceration for nonpayment despite posing no danger to the community; lose their jobs; and become trapped in cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape,” Gupta and Foster wrote. “Furthermore, in addition to being unlawful, to the extent that these practices are geared not toward addressing public safety, but rather toward raising revenue, they can cast doubt on the impartiality of the tribunal and erode trust between local governments and their constituents.” The letter begins with the phrase “Dear Colleague,” and it does not threaten any specific enforcement action for those who ignore it. Officials said, however, it is an indication that the Justice Department is stepping up its efforts on the problem of local court fines and fees. Department officials will also announce Monday that they are making $2.5 million in grant funding available for jurisdictions with plans to “test strategies to restructure the assessment and enforcement of fines and fees.” “We believe strongly the Constitution needs to be upheld in every court in every place in the United States, so we’re trying to help make sure that comes to pass,” Foster said in an interview.
The White House and the department convened a summit on the issue in December with advocates and court officials, and the Justice Department alleged in a recent lawsuit that officers Ferguson, Mo., were violating citizens’ civil rights in part because their policing tactics were meant to generate revenue. More:
Inside Kasich’s long-shot strategy to beat Trump to the GOP nomination
Microphone in hand, Republican John Kasich promised the crowd inside a high-tech Ohio factory Saturday that he’ll never be beholden to Washington insiders if he wins the White House in November.
But as he zigzags across the state before Ohio’s GOP primary on Tuesday – emboldened by polls showing him edging ahead of rival Donald Trump – Kasich may soon need all the Washington insiders he can get. Behind the scenes, strategists for Kasich, the Ohio governor, are studying arcane party rules that they believe could offer a path to the Republican nomination if he wins his home state, his aides said.
It is a long-shot strategy, both for Kasich and the anti-Trump forces inside the party. But if fellow GOP candidate Marco Rubio loses his own state of Florida on Tuesday – as polls predict – a surge by Kasich may be the only viable strategy for Republicans looking to stop Trump from getting the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. A loss by Rubio, a senator, will almost certainly end his struggling candidacy. If Trump wins both Ohio and Florida, the New York real estate mogul’s march to the nomination will be all but assured. The Kasich camp sees a Rubio loss in Florida opening up a different possibility – the first contested convention held by either party since 1952. “The plan is to win Ohio, and some other states, and if that happens, nobody is going to have enough delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot,” said John Weaver, Kasich’s chief campaign strategist, who also worked on Republican Senator John McCain’s losing presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2008. Kasich supporters are betting that an Ohio win will give his candidacy its first real momentum, attracting donors and endorsements. From there, he could score more victories in upcoming primaries in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Wisconsin, Connecticut and California, states where Kasich polls favorably. He has almost no hope of winning enough delegates to secure the nomination outright. But if he can succeed in blocking Trump from getting a majority, Kasich can make a case to convention delegates that he is more electable than Trump or Ted Cruz, the conservative evangelical from Texas and, to date, Trump’s most successful Republican rival.
Campaign 2016 is on a dangerous descent
VANDALIA, Ohio — Friday was an ugly day on the campaign trail, perhaps the worst of the year. What erupted in St. Louis and fully boiled over later in Chicago, however, was no aberration. Donald Trump has built his candidacy on long-festering resentment and grievance. It is a poisonous combination, for the Republican Party and for the country. Trump’s slogan is Make America Great Again, but his campaign for president continues to call out dark forces that divide a polarized America. Fueled by acrimonious rhetoric, he has sparked an angry movement that has now created an angry backlash. Campaign 2016 is on a downward and dangerous descent. The videos of the conflicts ahead of Trump’s rally in Chicago on Friday evening triggered memories of the far-worse bloody clashes at the 1968 Democratic convention in the same city, when the United States was engulfed by violence and protests over the war in Vietnam. The flash points in today’s politics are more diffuse, but the political divisions are no less real. Trump seems unwilling to try to put the genie back in the bottle. Even if he were, it’s questionable that he could. Anger is the fuel that feeds his candidacy. Passions on both sides intensify by the week. Scattered protests at his rallies have escalated into terrifying confrontations. Violence is more commonplace. Standing in the airplane hangar at Trump’s rally here in Ohio on Saturday morning was Tom McMurtry, 60, a community college police officer and Iraq War veteran. He described himself as a former Republican who is now an undecided independent who wanted to hear what Trump had to say. He watched Friday’s melee in Chicago as he was eating dinner. Did he blame Trump for any of this? “He could certainly have done things to calm things down, but a lot of his appeal is that he gets people riled up. He stirs people up,” McMurtry said. “It’s hard to stir people up and then at the last possible instant tell them to stop. It’s a momentum heading toward violence, and last night it hit people moving in the other direction.”
The Case for a Presidential Pardon for Don Siegelman
President Barack Obama has promised one of the most sweeping criminal justice reforms in recent years and has built a strong bipartisan coalition to support it. However, while the Constitution gives him the direct authority to immediately reverse glaring injustices—through the use of the power of pardon and clemency—Obama has been extraordinarily cautious about acting. As the editors of The New York Times observed, “until recently President Obama was the least merciful president of modern times.” Indeed, the only high-profile pardon recipients under Obama have been Thanksgiving Day turkeys. With less than a year left in office, it’s time Obama became bolder with his powers. One case among the thousands now before Obama cries out for consideration. That is the 2006 conviction of Alabama Governor Don E. Siegelman on corruption charges stemming from his acceptance of a $500,000 donation as he sought to pass a state lottery to fund public education. The donation was made by a health care executive, whom Siegelman reappointed to an uncompensated state hospital oversight board. As more than 100 of the nation’s current and former attorneys general have pointed out, this prosecution was extraordinary. If such conduct is corrupt, then there is hardly a senior political figure in the country who could escape prison—including Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who both gave dozens of diplomatic and other government appointments to individuals who contributed or aggregated six- or seven-figure sums to their own campaigns. In fact, Siegelman’s Republican successor proceeded to appoint one of his major campaign donors to the same hospital oversight board. This case bares all the hallmarks of politically motivated prosecution. After Siegelman’s conviction, a series of newspaper and broadcast exposés established that he had been the victim of a political vendetta orchestrated by Texas-based consultant Karl Rove and a number of senior Alabama Republicans. CBS’s “60 Minutes” got wind of the case and provided coverage on the essentially undisputed political shenanigans behind the case. Newspapers around the country called for Siegelman’s release. Then the story got even stranger. The judge who handled it, and whose bias against Siegelman was apparent to most observers but was hastily covered up by his colleagues in black robes, has since been forced to resign in disgrace. He assaulted his wife in an Atlanta hotel and then lied about it to law-enforcement officials. The victim was, incidentally, both his former mistress and the court officer in the Siegelman case. Notwithstanding his resignation, judicial conference officials are so appalled by the judge’s misconduct that they are considering a recommendation that Congress impeach him anyway, to strip away his benefits. In the meantime, Siegelman has sat in prison since September 2012, convicted of conduct that virtually no one believes is actually a crime. At the end of last year, he spent eight weeks segregated from the prison population, in a special-housing unit in the Louisiana facility where he’s serving his time—for having the audacity to protest his innocence in a radio talk show conducted from the prison. (According to Bureau of Prisons policy, prisoners are not permitted to claim publicly that they’re innocent, even when the evidence clearly establishes that they are.) More:
Gov. Bentley on prison riot: Too few corrections officers outnumbered by inmates
Too few corrections officers outnumbered by too many inmates Friday night at Holman Prison played a key role in leading to a riot at the maximum security facility in Atmore, Gov. Robert Bentley said today. Bentley made his comments following a briefing he received on the riot by state prison Commissioner Jeff Dunn. Bentley said Dunn told him that a combination of what had already been an undermanned staff of corrections officers on duty at Holman was made worst when some officers scheduled for duty called in sick leaving the staff even more undermanned than normal. Bentley said that caused some areas of the prison to be under monitored. It was in such an area where a fight broke out between some inmates. Bentley said when officers became aware of the fight they responded but found themselves dangerously outnumbered. Bentley said Dunn told him a corrections officer along with the prison’s warden were stabbed in an effort to take control of the area. When that effort failed the staff withdrew. “They were outnumbered (staff) and they followed protocol and withdrew and called for help,” said Bentley. Bentley said Dunn was first notified of what was happening at about 11 p.m., Friday. Bentley said Dunn told him that emergency response units were able to restore order and lock the prison down by about 3 a.m. “Commissioner Dunn said the injuries to staff were minor,” said Bentley. “Everything is under control now.” More:
Judge Walker Issues Late Night Order on Coleman Tapes
MONTGOMERY—Despite Baron Coleman’s assurances to Judge Jacob Walker III, that he would not release taped conversations between he and Deputy Attorney General Matt Hart, the judge issued a protective order barring him from disseminating them publicly, then hours later he issued an amended version which included Coleman’s statements to the court in a closed hearing. Coleman told the court he secretly recorded conversations between he and Hart and that he “put two and two together,” and now claims the tapes may show prosecutorial misconduct in the felony case against Speaker Mike Hubbard. Judge Walker’s first protective order was issued at 5:18 pm, March 10, and the amended order came later that evening at 8:40 pm. FIRST PROTECTIVE ORDER AMENDED PROTECTIVE ORDER
At 5:18 pm Judge Walker issued his first protective order, by 6:59 pm, al.com reported “Coleman was mulling over his legal options including whether to hand the tapes over to Walker in light of the protective order.” An hour and forty minutes later Judge Walker issues an amended order which include statements made by Coleman in a closed hearing: More:
Alabama father who lobbied for tougher child abuse penalties charged with domestic violence
A father who lobbied for tougher penalties for abusers of children was arrested on Friday on two counts of domestic violence. Joey Crampton was charged with two misdemeanor counts of domestic violence third degree and booked into Montgomery City Jail, WSFA reported. Crampton is accused of strangling his wife, Leah, causing her neck to bruise and throwing their 8-month-old child. Leah Crampton claims Joey was smoking marijuana in front of his 4-year-old son Winston, whom Joey Crampton gained custody of in September of last year. Roianne Houlton Conner, an attorney representing Leah Crampton, issued a statement on Saturday. Leah Crampton reported the alleged assault to Montgomery police on Thursday, which led to the arrest of her husband, Conner stated. A restraining order was issued. Subsequently, Autauga County Circuit Court granted Leah Crampton temporary custody of Winston and the couple’s younger children. Winston is at the center of a high-profile child abuse case in Elmore County. His mother, Hallee McLeod, and her boyfriend, Scott Hicks, are accused of severely abusing the boy.
McLeod was indicted on aggravated child abuse and chemical endangerment charges. Hicks is charged with child neglect with serious injury. Winston was found unresponsive and suffering from multiple injuries in the truck of his mother’s boyfriend in Panama City, Fla. in September. Hicks had traveled to Florida to resolve two outstanding warrants, and deputies found the child left in his vehicle. The child had multiple bruises, a laceration on his head and dried blood on his lips. Since that incident, Joey Crampton has lobbied for legislation dubbed Winston’s Law, which created the crime of aggravated child abuse of a child under the age of 6. The offense is Class A felony, which carries a prison sentence of no less than 10 years. The Alabama Legislature passed the bill last month.
My house burned down … and now you shot my dog!
There was no mention of the shooting of the dog. But that didn’t stop the jury on Wednesday from taking just 20 minutes to return a verdict of not guilty for disorderly conduct. One juror even came over to shake the hand of Richard Junkins, the man who for months has complained of the way he was treated by the Madison County Sheriff’s Department on the day he lost everything. On March 6, 2015, a week after a record snowfall, Junkins watched his trailer burn down with his all his possessions inside. His wife, Angie, escaped without shoes. His black lab, named Mr. Bear, also made it out. “He was an inside dog. He never slept outside in his life,” said Junkins. “He was like a son to me. To some people, that may sound funny.” Richard Junkins, 46, stands where his single-wide trailer used to sit on Wall-Triana Highway in northern Madison County. Junkins said he left jail the morning after the fire to find his dog dead on the back porch. Deputies arrived later that evening, about 10 hours after the fire. A driver had called police to say a man was acting strangely, sitting in the roadway. Deputy Daniel De Jong walked down the dark driveway toward the smoldering trailer, flashlight in hand. Junkins could be heard bellowing, making loud anguished sounds. There was barking in the distance. A dog ran out of the darkness and growled.
Deputy De Jong yelled, “Hey, hey!” He shot and killed the dog. Junkins lost his mind. Standing in the bitter cold, half-dressed, with red dots of Taser sights on him, he began cursing the man who just killed his dog, daring deputies to fire again. “Hey, stay where you’re at!” commanded De Jong. “Son of a bitch…you shot my dog!” De Jong repeated: “Get on the ground!” Junkins twice tells him: “Shoot me!”
There is much yelling, some indecipherable, some profane. “Do you understand get on the ground?!?”
“My house burned down today and now you shot my dog!”
Disorderly conduct: After the yelling, Junkins was taken into custody without force. He was arrested for disorderly conduct for obstructing traffic. On the footage from the body camera, De Jong can be heard explaining: “We’re trying to figure out what’s going on, I get a big-ass dog running at me, I ain’t going to get bit.” But Junkins, now in custody, tells him: “You killed my baby.” None of this would come out during the perplexing trial on Wednesday.
The jury would not see the video. Judge Ruth Ann Hall ruled that lawyers could not discuss the shooting of Mr. Bear. The judge also warned: “There will not be any mention of any other cases involving this officer.” That officer would be Deputy De Jong, who was in the news last year for tasing a man in the back during his housewarming party. More:
Joe: Donald Trump’s Chicago scam
We keep talking to ourselves. Constantly. Trying to make order out of chaos and sense out of the surreal. And this year, most doing the talking have gotten it wrong. Wrong about Trump. Wrong about Rubio. Wrong about Sanders. And now wrong about the road ahead. What are we talking to ourselves about now on the Sunday shows, on cable news, in newspaper columns, in the blogosphere, on Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook? We are grimly warning the world that following Friday night’s fracas in Chicago, America faces a deepening divide that is tearing away at the fabric of this great land. What mind-numbing nonsense. Friday’s freak show was as prepackaged as a rerun of “The Celebrity Apprentice.” The only difference was that Donald Trump delivered his lines on the phone from a hotel room in the Windy City instead of on the set of his made-for-TV boardroom. It was all a scam. Has anyone noticed that Trump’s campaign now regularly stages media events designed to eclipse any negative coverage that predictably follows Republican debates? The Feb. 25 debate in Houston where Marco Rubio delivered the campaign’s most withering critique of Trump was followed the next morning with Chris Christie’s headline-grabbing endorsement. That Friday press conference consumed all political coverage throughout the weekend and limited any fallout from the Fox debate to a hardy band of Trump deniers on Twitter. Then last Thursday, Rubio delivered the debate performance of his life in Miami. But with Florida and Ohio five days away, the Trump campaign took no chances. It leaked the news of Ben Carson’s coming endorsement before the debate even began and held another Friday morning press conference to showcase it. But Carson was just the warm-up act. When news broke early Friday night that the Chicago rally had been canceled because of safety fears, you didn’t need to be a programming genius to predict what would be jamming America’s airwaves for the rest of the night. And for the next four hours, the candidate who is promising to weaken libel laws spoke on cable news channels about how his First Amendment rights were being violated. He was doing all of this while reaching a far larger audience than he could have ever done while actually speaking at a rally. As has been the case throughout the entire 2016 cycle, Trump thrives on the political chaos that he helps creates. If it is true that opportunity and chaos are the same word in Mandarin, Trump should stamp that word on a poster and sell it at his next scheduled event. For the Manhattan billionaire, manufactured chaos is just as profitable for his brand as Paris Hilton’s sex tape was for hers. More:
What is the difference between Trump and Cruz?
Various commentators are arriving at the conclusion that the final contest for the Republican nomination will be a fight between Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz. Many of those same commentators have suggested it’s a very difficult decision to make, essentially a choice of who is the lesser of two evils. I don’t get that thinking. I said in January that for all his flaws, Cruz (Tex.) is “an authentic conservative Republican with a discernible government point of view.” And, as I said then, “Cruz would be much easier to defend” because at least he has experience, is an able retail politician and has a grasp of American civics — unlike Donald Trump. I thought that in Thursday night’s debate, Cruz was a star. He is credible as a thinking person’s candidate — although my sister said he reminds her a little bit of Frank Burns from “M*A*S*H,” which is not so good. Setting that aside, I think Cruz makes a compelling case for why he should be the Republican nominee. He has a deep understanding of the issues, he has thought about what it might take to actually solve our country’s problems and he legitimately understands the architecture of government. It’s obvious Trump doesn’t know much about policy. During Thursday’s debate, it was painful to watch him pretend he knew anything about the standards set by Common Core. Expectations for him are so low that if he were to express some vague awareness that there are nine Supreme Court justices, 50 states, three branches of government and no such thing as “the button,” a lot of commentators would swoon over his “until now hidden” level of remarkable sophistication. If Trump occasionally refrains from hurling insults, shouting vulgarities or frothing at the mouth — perhaps because he is tired or simply bored — plenty of commentators are eager to conclude he has shed what was simply an act and is certainly capable of acting presidential. I’m not convinced. I have no problem picturing Cruz as president. I have no problem thinking he could conduct himself well with foreign leaders, and even though his friction with other members of Congress has been well-documented, at least he knows how the place works. And, if commentators are so quick to believe that Trump would change his behavior if he became the Republican nominee, then they also have to assume Cruz would begin to act in a manner that would help him be effective as president and win approval for his policy agenda. It’s not over until it’s over. Maybe Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) is closing in on Trump in his home state. Maybe Ohio Gov. John Kasich will win in his home state. But even so, there is still a plausible chance that Cruz and Trump will be in the finals. If that happens, Republicans should back Cruz and feel good about it.
A cease and desist letter to the City of Birmingham
So the city of Birmingham sent a cease and desist letter to the people replacing that stupid eyesore of a Pepsi sign that has polluted the city skyline for too long. Good job, Birmingham. Always with its fingers on the pulse of the people. But the city’s action is … inspirational. It inspires me to consult my own lawyers – Dumas, Collum & Neste – to issue, on behalf of the people of this city, a cease and desist letter to the City of Birmingham itself. To the Mayor and City Council of Birmingham: This order is to inform you that we, THE PEOPLE, have had it up to HERE. If we wanted a mayor and council calling each other names and refusing to share basic supplies we would have elected the second grade class at Washington Elementary School. And we would be far better off. You are ORDERED TO STOP such activities immediately as they are in violation of all that is holy. We are embarrassed to see the MAYOR and COUNCIL MEMBERS fight like overstimulated pre-pubescents in the middle of council meetings, humiliated to know that for every story the world reads in the New York Times about up-and-coming Birmingham, there is another story like that one, proving only that this city is governed like a Banana Republic. And WE THE PEOPLE don’t mean the store at the mall. We demand that you STOP traveling across the country and the world to sell yourselves as important people while failing to bring back even a wisp of worldly wisdom. We order you to STOP spending money on parties and celebrations of your own authority, to END the sad food fight that city meetings have become. They are a time-sucking violation of COMMON DECENCY. MAYOR WILLIAM BELL you must be responsive to a council that needs to know the overall financial condition and strategy of the city. Anything else is just ARROGANT and IRRESPONSIBLE. You are the mayor, and the chief executive, but you are not the KING OF BIRMINGHAM. When you try to pass bills in the Alabama Legislature to steal powers from the city council you behave JUST LIKE THE COUNCIL and you look like the despot they call you. Council President JOHNATHAN AUSTIN, grow up. You cannot in good faith criticize the mayor by calling him OLD. Half the population is older than you. And another 25 percent are TOO YOUNG TO VOTE. And, while WE THE PEOPLE are generally in favor of HYPERBOLE, it would be wise for you to understand the context of history before invoking THE BERLIN WALL or BULL CONNOR in city disputes. It is unseemly for someone in your position. And CITY COUNCIL, please remember your role. You are the legislative branch, so CEASE AND DESIST acting as if it is your job to boss employees around. Legislate, for that is your job. If any of you want to perform mayoral functions then by all means quit your jobs and RUN FOR MAYOR. Until then, act like you appreciate the honor you have been given. But STOP complaining about how hard the job is and STOP giving yourselves perks and pay raises. This order acts as ONE FINAL CHANCE for you to cease your MINDBOGGLING activities before WE THE PEOPLE exercise our rights to KICK YOU BUMS OUT ON THE STREET. STOP embarrassing us. CEASE AND DESIST putting yourselves above the people you were elected to represent. ACT like leaders, and not just SELFISH politicians. With all DUE respect. Sincerely, The People of Birmingham
POLITICAL ANXIETY GRIPS WALL STREET — POLITICO’s Ben White: “Wall Street has been on a wild ride the last few months with big daily swings increasingly the norm. And one major reason is no one can figure out the 2016 election. One day the dreaded Donald Trump is vulnerable. The next he is the all but certain Republican nominee. But then, after all, there may be a brokered convention.
“Some traders and executives wonder if Ted Cruz, currently running second to Trump in pledged delegates, might be scarier than the New York billionaire. They are hoping for a white knight to ride in and save everyone at the GOP convention in July. But if that happened, others respond, there could be riots on the streets of Cleveland. After all, assaults at Trump rallies pop up in the news on a near daily basis.
WILD ON THE LEFT — And it’s not just craziness on the Republican side. The rock-solid Wall Street conventional wisdom that Hillary Clinton has a lock on the Democratic nomination keeps sprouting leaks. Everyone thought Clinton would crush Vermont Senator and self-described Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders in Michigan and bring the race to a quick close. And then she lost. … The result of all these questions on Wall Street is a giant spike in political uncertainty. And there is nothing markets hate more than uncertainty.
“You can clearly correlate some of the increased volatility on Wall Street to developments in the presidential campaign,’ said hedge fund manger Doug Kass of Seabreeze Partners. … The 2016 campaign is not the only thing causing markets to jump all over the map. There is uncertainty over the direction of the U.S. economy, the collapse in oil prices, fear over slower growth in China and the uncertain policy path of the U.S. Federal Reserve and central banks across the globe.
“But the incredibly volatile 2016 campaign — with strong populist fervor surging in both parties — leaves traders, Wall Street executives and major investors completely clueless about who might wind up in the White House in 2017 and what they might have to say and do to get there.” politi.co/1Rgzpft
NO PATH FOR TRUMP IN NOVEMBER SAYS TOP CLINTON STRATEGIST — In the latest “Off Message” Podcast, pollster Joel Benenson tells Glenn Thrush that Donald Trump has no path to victory in November and predicts that states like Arizona and North Carolina could flip in a Clinton/Trump matchup. Benenson also brushes off the theory that Trump can play in Rust Belt states — “He doesn’t have a message that appeals to these folks. It’s not real.” LISTEN to the full conversation for much more on Clinton, Sanders, and Trump and be sure to subscribe to “Off Message” on iTunes. http://apple.co/20XmGCU
MARCH MADNESS! — UVA, UNC, Kansas and Oregon are the #1 seeds. Full bracket: http://es.pn/1V5PxA6
BUFFETT BRACKET CHALLENGE — Yahoo Finance today has a video interview with Warren Buffett, “who opens up to EIC Andy Serwer about his $1 million-a-year-for-life offer to any employee who predicts the Sweet Sixteen round perfectly this year” http://yhoo.it/1po8Zwq
DRIVING THE WEEK — Fed announcement and Yellen presser on Wednesday with no rate hike expected. Markets will look for any dot-plot changes and hints about when the next hike might come … Tuesday’s primaries will either put Trump on a glide path to the nomination or make a contested convention a serious possibility … Senate Banking has a nominations hearing Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. … FDIC meets Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. … U.S. Chamber hosts its capital markets summit Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. … ABA holds its government relations summit Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. … House Financial Services holds a CFPB hearing Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. … Retail sales Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. expected to drop 0.1 percent headline and 0.2 percent ex-autos …
BIG WEEK AHEAD ON THE TRAIL — Tuesday’s primaries could decide whether Donald Trump can lock up the GOP nomination before the July convention or if chaos in Cleveland lies ahead. Should Trump take both Florida (99 delegates) and Ohio (66), there is probably no stopping him. But while the marketing executive leads by significant margins in most Florida polls, he trails home state governor John Kasich in Ohio. GOP 2012 nominee Mitt Romney will campaign in Ohio with Kasich on Monday as the “stop Trump” effort enters what could be its final days …
If Trump splits the two big states, establishment dreams of keeping him from the 1,237 delegates he needs will remain viable. If he somehow loses both, Trump could be in real trouble. The other big prizes up for grabs Tuesday include Missouri, Illinois and North Carolina. Trump could take them all but Kasich has a shot in Illinois and Ted Cruz has his best chance in Missouri.
TRUMP’S WEEK OF LIES — POLITICO’s Daniel Lippman, Darren Samuelsohn, and Isaac Arnsdorf: “Trump says he is a truthful man. … But truthful he is not. With the GOP front-runner scooping up delegates in a march toward the Republican nomination, POLITICO subjected a week’s worth of his words to our magazine’s fact-checking process. We chronicled 4.6 hours of stump speeches and press conferences, from a rally in Concord, N.C., on Monday to a rally on Friday in St. Louis.
“The result: more than five dozen statements deemed mischaracterizations, exaggerations, or simply false — the kind of stuff that would have been stripped from one of our stories, or made the whole thing worthy of the spike. It equates to roughly one misstatement every five minutes on average. From warning of the death of Christianity in America to claiming that he is taking no money from donors, the Manhattan billionaire and reality-show celebrity said something far from truthful many times over to the thousands of people packed into his raucous rallies” http://politi.co/1RZaOZw
BIG WEEK FOR THE FED — Pantheon’s Ian Shepherdson: “A huge wave of data will break over markets this week, along with the FOMC meeting, new dotplots and Chair Yellen’s press conference. … [W]e’re sticking with our view that the Fed will be forced into four rate hikes this year, starting in June. Markets expect only one-and-a-half hikes, so the scope for disruption is huge.”
TRUMP THE OUTSOURCER — WP’s Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger: “Donald Trump wanted to market a line of men’s clothes that would bear his name. He told people working with him to help find a company known for producing quality merchandise on a mass scale. In the end, Trump signed on with Phillips-Van Heusen, a manufacturer of affordable shirts produced in factories in 85 countries. …
“Documents and interviews reveal the personal role that Trump played in negotiating the deal. Participants said they could not recall Trump expressing a preference that products be made in the United States. … Today, Donald J. Trump Collection shirts — as well as eyeglasses, perfume, cuff links and suits — are made in Bangladesh, China, Honduras and other low-wage countries. … Trump’s daughter Ivanka, a vice president at his company and frequent campaign surrogate, markets hundreds of additional products under her own line of jewelry and clothing, many of which are made in China”
BLOOMBERG’S WINKLER: LAY OFF THE BANKS — Bloomberg’s Matt Winkler: “There’s a perverse competition among some U.S. presidential candidates: Who can most loudly blame Wall Street for the problems of Main Street. They’ve got it wrong. Financial firms are doing more to help consumers, business and industry in America than they have in decades. And for the first time since the early years of the 21st century, global investors consider U.S. banks among the world’s best. …
“All but ignored in the presidential debates this year is the record $1.06 trillion of loans to commercial and industrial firms by the largest U.S. banks, an amount that has increased for 21 consecutive quarters. That’s a streak unequaled since 1985, when Ronald Reagan occupied the White House (and Bloomberg began compiling such data).” http://bv.ms/1RgJEdE
MUST READ ON DELEGATE MATH — GOP attorney Ben Ginsberg lays out all the possibilities: “The March 15 winner-take-all primaries in Florida and Ohio have been billed as make-or-break for the Republican candidates still holding out hope that they can topple Donald Trump. But those contests are also make-or-break for Trump, and for the Republican Party: They will determine whether there’s chaos or a coronation at the Cleveland convention.” http://politi.co/1pG8AFd
RATE HIKES STILL COMING — NYT’s Binyamin Appelbaum: “Federal Reserve officials will gather in Washington on Tuesday and Wednesday to debate whether a bumpy start to the year is now in the rearview mirror, clearing the way for higher interest rates. … The Fed is not likely to raise rates this week, but the steady growth of the domestic economy — despite the wobbles of financial markets and the weakness of other developed nations — is strengthening the hand of officials who say that higher rates are necessary to maintain control of price inflation. It seems increasingly clear that the Fed’s plans to spend 2016 gradually raising its benchmark interest rate have been delayed, not derailed.
“The challenge now confronting … Yellen … is forging a consensus among Fed officials about how soon to resume the march begun in December, when the Fed raised rates, by 0.25 percent, for the first time since the financial crisis. Some Fed officials still emphasize caution, arguing there is little risk in moving slowly. … But other officials are antsy about inflation. Prices rose 1.7 percent in the 12 months through the end of January, according to the latest reading from the Fed’s preferred gauge. The modest uptick brings the Fed closer to its goal of 2 percent annual inflation for the first time in years” http://nyti.ms/1nHzD1v
CHINA FIRM STRIKES BIG U.S. HOTEL DEAL — FT’s Arash Massoudi and James Fontanella-Khan in New York, and Lucy Hornby in Beijing: “Chinese insurer Anbang has struck its biggest deal for prime US property, agreeing to buy Strategic Hotels & Resorts for $6.5bn only three months after private equity group Blackstone took the luxury hotels collection private. The acquisition is the latest sign of China’s unprecedented march on foreign assets at a time when the world’s second-largest economy grapples with turbulent economic conditions. …
“It also suggests that Anbang, which along with investment conglomerate Fosun International and real estate group Dalian Wanda have spearheaded many of China’s most ambitious deals, is undeterred in its acquisition spree in spite of a political backlash over some dealmaking attempts. Strategic Hotels & Resorts owns 16 luxury US hotels including San Diego’s waterfront Hotel del Coronado and New York’s JW Marriott Essex House Hotel, which sits on the southern side of Central Park” http://on.ft.com/1phMOHq
DEATH TOLL RISES IN TURKEY — Reuters/Ankara: “The death toll in a car bomb attack in the Turkish capital Ankara has risen to 37 people, Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu said on Monday, adding that 71 people were still being treated in hospital. Of those in hospital, 15 were in serious condition, he told reporters. … Sunday’s bombing was the second such attack in the administrative heart of the city in under a month and two senior security officials told Reuters initial findings suggested the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group was responsible.” http://reut.rs/1QRVQFR
STOCKS RISE EARLY — Bloomberg: “Stocks rose in Asia and Europe, extending a global rally before central banks in two of the world’s three biggest economies review policy this week. Australia’s dollar led declines among commodity currencies as oil fell. … Chinese equities jumped after the new head of the securities regulator signaled he will maintain state support for shares. Turkey’s lira weakened after a deadly bomb attack in Ankara” http://bloom.bg/1V5Rv3q
10:00 am || Receives the Presidential Daily Briefing
11:15 am || Delivers remarks at the State Department to chiefs of missions
12:30 pm || Lunch with Biden
5:30 pm || With Mrs. Obama, hosts the Broadway cast of Hamilton for a performance of musical selections; East Room
All times Eastner
Live stream of White House briefing at 12:45 pm
A package to provide assistance to the city of Flint, Mich., after residents suffered from water contamination and the fate of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration will be the focus of this week in Congress.
Senators are expressing hope that they’ll be able to revive a long-stalled energy bill and deal on aid to Flint, Mich., this week.
But hurdles remain in bringing the bills back onto the Senate floor. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) put a hold on the package over concerns about a GOP-push for an amendment to expand an offshore drilling revenue-sharing program.
“They’re trying to start the process of drilling off of Florida,” Nelson told reporters late last week. “For 40 years, I’ve fought to keep rigs off of the state of Florida and I will not let that happen here to satisfy Sen. [Bill] Cassidy.”
Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, is offering the amendment.
Unless Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) files cloture on the two bills, supporters will need unanimous consent to bring the measures up on the Senate floor.
Nelson, who is supportive of the energy bill, is one of two senators who have a hold.
The House will take a step toward inserting itself in the debate over President Obama’s executive actions on immigration before the Supreme Court.
Lawmakers are expected to vote either Wednesday or Thursday on a resolution authorizing the Speaker to file an amicus brief on behalf of the full House in the case before the Supreme Court regarding the legality of President Obama’s 2014 actions to shield up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation.
Democrats filed their own brief last week in support of the executive actions, arguing that any brief that House Republicans submit wouldn’t speak for them.
Twenty-six states are challenging the executive actions, which have been frozen for more than a year after a federal judge put them on hold.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments on the case on April 18 and issue a ruling by the end of June.
However, the Supreme Court is operating with only eight justices after Antonin Scalia died in February. It’s possible the Supreme Court wouldn’t be able to break a tie along party lines, which would result in deferring to the lower court’s decision or another round after Scalia’s replacement is confirmed.
House Republicans are still trying to find a way forward on passing a budget resolution this year.
The Senate Budget Committee announced last week that it will postpone consideration of a budget amid the divisions in the House. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) maintained that the upper chamber will adhere to the spending limits outlined in last year’s budget deal despite resistance from House conservatives.
GOP members of the House Budget Committee are expected to meet Monday evening to discuss their options. If they can reach an agreement, the panel could consider a budget resolution as soon as Wednesday to send it to the House floor for a vote next week.
In the meantime, the House Ways and Means Committee plans to mark up a “budget savings” package this week that it says will reduce the deficit by $16 billion in two years by targeting overpayments in government programs like the healthcare law.
The Senate will take up President Obama’s nominee to lead the Department of Education.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled a vote for Monday evening on John King’s nomination to be Education secretary.
King has been the department’s acting secretary since Arne Duncan stepped down last year.
The White House initially indicated it wouldn’t formally nominate King to avoid an election-year fight, but Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)—who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee—said he promised to give the president’s nominee a “fair” hearing.
The HELP Committee approved King in a 16-6 vote late week, with Alexander voting in favor of his nomination. But he still faces opposition from lawmakers in both parties this week.
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who had a hold on his nomination, will likely vote against Obama’s pick during Monday’s vote, according to his office.
Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) suggested she would vote against him unless she received “more direct answers” on how he would bolster protections for students who borrow money to pay for college.
The Senate could also wade into a fight over legislation to block states from issuing their own mandatory labeling laws on genetically modified foods (GMOs).
Senators could take up the legislation this week, after it passed earlier this month out of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.
The legislation—from Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas)—would also establish a voluntary federal standard.
Senate Democrats also introduced their own rival bill earlier this month that would require manufacturers to disclose if a product includes GMOs.
Meanwhile, the House passed its own bill last year despite fierce pushback from consumer groups and Democrats.
No vote or floor time for Roberts’ legislation has been scheduled, but Republicans will need the support of at least six Democrats to get it passed.
What You Need to Know About the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit
Don’t overlook the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. It can reduce the taxes you pay. Here are 10 facts from the IRS about this important tax credit:
- Child, Dependent or Spouse. You may be able to claim the credit if you paid someone to care for your child, dependent or spouse last year.
- Work-Related Expense. The care must have been necessary so you could work or look for work. If you are married, the care also must have been necessary so your spouse could work or look for work. This rule does not apply if your spouse was disabled or a full-time student.
- Qualifying Person. The care must have been for “qualifying persons.” A qualifying person can be your child under age 13. A qualifying person can also be your spouse or dependent who lived with you for more than half the year and is physically or mentally incapable of self-care.
- Earned Income. You must have earned income for the year, such as wages from a job. If you are married and file a joint tax return, your spouse must also have earned income. Special rules apply to a spouse who is a student or disabled.
- Credit Percentage / Expense Limits. The credit is worth between 20 and 35 percent of your allowable expenses. The percentage depends on the amount of your income. Your allowable expenses are limited to $3,000 if you paid for the care of one qualifying person. The limit is $6,000 if you paid for the care of two or more.
- Dependent Care Benefits. If your employer gives you dependent care benefits, special rules apply. For more on these rules see Form 2441, Child and Dependent Care Expenses.
- Qualifying Person’s SSN. You must include the Social Security number of each qualifying person to claim the credit.
- Care Provider Information. You must include the name, address and taxpayer identification number of your care provider on your tax return.
- Form 2441. You file Form 2441 with your tax return to claim the credit.
- IRS Free File. You can use IRS Free File to prepare and e-file your federal tax return, including Form 2441, Child and Dependent Care Expenses, for free. Free File is the fastest and easiest way to file your tax return and it’s only available at IRS.gov/freefile.
Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.