European Union Ministers Approve Plan to Distribute Refugees
BRUSSELS — European Union ministers on Tuesday approved a plan for individual countries in the bloc to accept a share of the hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking asylum on the continent — but only after overruling four former Soviet bloc countries. The home affairs and interior ministers, meeting in an emergency session here, voted on a plan to apportion 120,000 refugees — still only a small fraction of those flowing into Europe — among members of the European Union. The dissenters were the ministers representing the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. Under European law, three of the countries — the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia — would be required to accept migrants against their will, said one European Union diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity shortly after the vote. The idea behind the plan is to relieve the pressure on front-line nations like Italy and Greece, which migrants from the Middle East, Afghanistan and African have been flooding. France and Germany back a compulsory approach to resettling refugees. But a call for the members to share the burden of absorbing the migrants according to the wealth and population of the member countries met with fierce resistance. The squabbling has highlighted the lack of a united European response to one of the worst humanitarian crises in decades.
Is Bridge a Sport? The Question Now in the Hands of U.K. High Court
It’s a game that consists of grand slams, jumps and defenders, requiring finesse and control. The competition can be fierce; some of its greatest players have literally left it all on the table. But does that make bridge a sport? The sophisticated card game whose rules and techniques have been passed on from generations of grandparents to appreciative grandchildren (along with confused and incurious offspring) is the subject of a dispute before Britain’s High Court. After the U.K.’s athletics governing body ruled that bridge isn’t a sport but a game, the question is now before a High Court judge. Reports the Associated Press: Is bridge a sport? A British judge has been asked to resolve this weighty question after Sport England ruled the popular card game is not a sport. The decision is being challenged in Britain’s High Court Tuesday and Wednesday by the English Bridge Union, which complains that the adverse ruling by Sport England goes against the views of Britain’s Parliament and “significant international sporting organizations.” It says Parliament has recognized “mind sports” that promote mental skills and contends that bridge has known health benefits. Sport England, a national body that plays a key role distributing lottery funds, has long taken the view that bridge and other mental games, such as chess, are not sports. Its director, Phil Smith, said the agency’s job is to promote physical fitness and playing bridge won’t help.
Egypt‘s President Pardons 100 Prisoners, Including Three Al Jazeera Journalists
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi today pardoned 100 prisoners, including three Al Jazeera television journalists, according to security sources. Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, Egyptian Baher Mohamed, and Australian Peter Greste were sentenced to three years in prison in a retrial last month for operating without a press license and broadcasting material harmful to Egypt. Greste was convicted in absentia, having been deported in February after spending 400 days in prison. Egypt’s state news agency confirmed the pardons, saying the other prisoners included those who violated a law against public protest as well as some who were sick. “This comes in the framework of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s initiative to release a number of youth which he launched… in December,” it said, quoting presidential sources. The pardons came a day before Sisi plans to head to New York for the 70th session of the UN General Assembly and the Egyptian president also announced them on his Facebook page. Human rights groups have accused Egyptian authorities of widespread violations since the army toppled the country’s first democratically elected president, Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, in 2013 after mass protests against his rule. Egyptian security forces arrested dozens of activists last year for violating a 2013 law banning protests without a permit. Among the released were 16 women, including Yara Sallam, the state news agency said. Sallam was arrested last year along with other activists accused of violating the protest law.
Your holiday cheat sheet to Yom Kippur
I read a fascinating article in the Los Angeles Times a couple of years ago about local protests against the sacrificial slaughter of chickens being conducted in Jewish enclaves throughout Los Angeles — and, indeed, throughout the world. The ritual, known as kaparot, kapparot or kaparos, is supposed to help “cleanse” people of their sins. It’s an orthodox Jewish thing. More progressive Jews are calling the ritual archaic and meaningless, and point to the treatment of the chickens before their deaths as further reason to stop the killings. Faith leaders have joined with animal-rights activists in the protest. The sacrifices are all tied into the “High Holy Days” leading up to Yom Kippur. This period is meant to be a period of “atonement” — asking God to forgive one’s sins. The chicken is meant to “accept” all the sins of those present and then be killed (knife to the throat) and then eaten by those in need. It would be a shame, though, if all non-Jewish people ever associated with Yom Kippur was chicken sacrifices. Because, for most Jews, it’s about something else entirely:
The Government Is Selling Thousands of Homes to Hedge Funds Without Their Owners’ Knowledge
Julius Uwansc was in trouble with his mortgage after refinancing in 2009, just after the real estate bubble popped. Like millions of others, he found himself owing more on his house than it was worth. The Nigerian-born father of four moved into his house on Richardson Road in Gwynn Oak, Maryland, in 2005. “We loved it because it has this big yard where the kids can play,” Uwansc says. But soon after closing on the loan, Uwansc began having trouble making payments. He believed he had worked out a loan modification with Bank of America in 2011 after signing paperwork, but the bank disputed the terms Uwansc thought he had secured. When he didn’t pay the amount the bank said he owed, it claimed he was in default. Uwansc’s mortgage was insured by the Federal Housing Administration, meaning if he failed to make payments, the bank would typically be paid the full value of what was left of the mortgage, plus costs associated with servicing the debt. Bank of America filed for a claim and received payment. The mortgage was then transferred to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the FHA. Normally at this point, instead of taking over the mortgage, HUD regulations would require the bank to work with the borrower during a pre-foreclosure stage. If there’s no way to keep the homeowner in the home, HUD shepherds the property through the foreclosure process. But not in this case. Seven years after the real estate market crashed and took the economy down with it, major investors are again buying mortgages by the thousands. But instead of dealing with shady subprime lenders, they are buying many of those same shaky loans from the government—at a significant discount. Under a special government program, in December 2013, HUD sold Uwansc’s mortgage along with 802 others to a fund created by Oaktree Capital, a hedge fund.
Bank of America Shareholders Allow Chief to Keep Chairman Post
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Brian T. Moynihan gets to keep his job as both chief executive and chairman of Bank of America after shareholders on Tuesday backed the board’s decision to grant him both titles. Roughly 63 percent of the shareholders’ votes cast approved a proposal allowing the board to decide whether its top executive should hold a dual leadership role at the bank. Critics said their opposition to the measure was less a judgment on Mr. Moynihan’s stewardship of the bank and more a rejection of the way he and the bank’s board went about combining the chief executive and chairman titles last October. The board unilaterally overturned a shareholder vote in 2009 that required the two roles be separated. Tuesday’s vote had become a rallying cry for shareholder activists, who said too many companies like Bank of America had run roughshod over the wishes of their investors. Some of the nation’s largest pensions funds in California, New York and Illinois came out against keeping the jobs together, saying two separate positions would provide more oversight at the bank. Every weekday, twice a day, get the news driving the markets and the latest on mergers and acquisitions. Although the bank does not make public how its investors vote, many of its largest shareholders – including large fund managers like Vanguard and Fidelity — had been expected to follow the bank recommendation to keep the roles together. The proxy advisory firms Institutional Shareholder Services and Glass-Lewis strongly opposed the board’s decisions to combine the titles. Bank of America waged an all-out campaign to sway the vote, meeting face-to-face with dozens of investors, from London to Houston. Bank executives argued that Bank of America should have the same flexibility as other large American companies in deciding whether to combine its chief executive and chairman positions. With the exception of Citigroup, the nation’s other largest banks have a combined role.
Kentucky clerk Davis rejects marriage licenses as invalid: ABC
The county clerk from Kentucky who went to jail rather than issue marriage licenses to gay couples said the licenses being granted by her staff are invalid, according to an interview that aired on Tuesday. “I can’t put my name on a license that doesn’t represent what God ordained what marriage to be,” Davis said in a television interview with ABC News, taped on Monday. “They’re not valid in God’s eyes, for one,” she said of licenses her staff has begun issuing. “I have given no authority to write a marriage license. They did not have my permission, they did not have my authorization.” Davis, 50, has said her Christian beliefs prevent her from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She was released on the condition that she not interfere with the issuance of marriage licenses. Davis added that she was prepared to return to jail over the controversy, according to ABC. She returned to work on Sept. 14 after a five-day stint in jail for refusing to issue any marriage licenses following a Supreme Court ruling in June that made gay marriage legal across the United States. On Monday, lawyers for couples suing Davis said that she made material changes to the forms since returning to work and is not in compliance with a federal court order. Issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Kentucky and other U.S. states has become the latest flash point in the nation’s long-running debate over gay marriage. In the wide-ranging interview from Morehead, Kentucky, Davis said she should keep her post, saying: “I’m good at my job.” “My constituents elected me, but the main authority that rules my life is the Lord,” Davis told ABC, speaking alongside one of her lawyers. She defended her actions and rejected criticism that she is a hypocrite and a homophobe for her actions and for citing her religious beliefs to deny marriages even as she has been married four times and had some children out of wedlock. “I’m forgiven. Washed clean,” she said. Mat Staver, an attorney for Davis, has said she has made a good faith effort to comply with U.S. District Judge David Bunning’s order. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, in a federal court filing on Monday, said Bunning should order the licenses to be issued under the previous format and reissue those given under the altered one. Despite Davis’ comments, their legality of the marriage licenses issued without her consent has not been challenged in court.
What’s a Jew to Do When the Pope Comes on Yom Kippur?
A friend recently asked me if I think it’s selfish for Pope Francis to come to the United States during Yom Kippur. My answer was: No, probably not. For one thing, the timing of his trip was pretty much set long before Francis became pope. He’s coming for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, which his predecessor, Benedict XVI, promised to attend before he stepped down from the papacy. And he’s a busy guy; in traveling around the world to meet with Catholics, it would be difficult to schedule around every minority religious group’s conflicts. Still, my friend has a point. The pope is making stops in D.C., New York, and Philadelphia—three of the most Jewish cities in the country. Traveling to see family, and even traveling within one’s own city, will be much more difficult because of traffic blockades. Symbolically, it feels like a moment of exclusion: On the day when the most powerful religious figure in the world meets with the most powerful political leader in the world in the White House, Jews will be unable to take part. For its part, the Obama administration is aware of the awkwardness. On a call with reporters last week, the deputy national security advisor, Ben Rhodes, said the pope’s schedule wasn’t flexible, but “we were very focused on making sure the American Jewish community could be part of important interfaith efforts.” It’s hard to say what the pope is aware of, but he has long been a friend of the Jewish people. Back when he was just Bergoglio and not yet Francis, he began a friendship with the Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka; the two even co-authored a book featuring their conversations on subjects from the Arab-Israeli conflict to the Holocaust. He has spoken about the connections between Jews and Christians, saying in a 2014 interview that “inside every Christian is a Jew” and criticizing Holocaust deniers. It has not always been this way. For example: Until 1959, the Latin word perfidis was used to describe Jews in the liturgy for Good Friday. While this word translates to mean “faithless” or “unbelieving,” many misinterpreted it as meaning “perfidious.” Pope John XXIII had this word removed from the prayer. More:
Francis under fire from conservatives
As Pope Francis prepares this week to deliver a historic address to Congress, he is drawing fire from an unlikely group: conservative hardliners. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) announced last week that he will boycott Thursday’s speech over expected remarks on climate change, saying the pontiff is acting like a “leftist politician.” Rush Limbaugh called Francis’s views on capitalism “pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.” And conservative columnist George Will wrote in a recent column that the Holy Father “embodies sanctity but comes trailing clouds of sanctimony.” This pope is no liberal on many of the social issues — such as abortion and gay marriage — that matter most to the far right. But his positions on immigration, relations with Cuba and Iran, and income inequality are at odds with the those held by the GOP. “That is potentially a significant political loss for the Republican Party. For the last 20-30 years, they’ve been able to say they have the support of an outspoken moral leader,” said Tim Byrnes, a Colgate University professor and author of “Catholic Bishops in American Politics.” Recent polling shows Francis is widely popular among Americans. A CNN-ORC poll released this week found that 63 percent of Americans view Pope Francis favorably, compared to 74 percent among Catholics specifically. While Francis has been outspoken in debates like income inequality and climate change, the Catholic Church’s doctrine has fundamentally remained the same since he was elected to the papacy in 2013. Francis remains opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage, even if he doesn’t highlight it as often. Republicans who choose to publicly disagree with the views of a major religious leader whose every word matters to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics do so at their own peril.
Government Shutdown Non-Event for U.S. Economy That Has Moved On
For all the political hand-wringing, a U.S. government shutdown on Oct. 1 would barely nick the world’s largest economy. The partisan debate over the nation’s finances has heated up with almost clockwork regularity, going back to the debt-ceiling fight in 2011 that led to the first-ever downgrade of Treasury debt. Such familiarity breeds contempt as yet another temporary closing of federal agencies will have a muted effect on gross domestic product, payrolls and consumer confidence. “The economy will be able to shrug it off,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics in Valhalla, New York, and the second-best forecaster of GDP, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “It’s not going to fundamentally change the trend in the economy. Domestic growth is quite solid.” Since the last shutdown in October 2013, an additional 5.24 million people are working and the cost of a gallon of gasoline has dropped by about $1, or 30 percent. An improving labor market and cheaper fuel will go a long way toward shielding consumer spending, which accounts for almost 70 percent of the economy.
When the Womb is a Crime Scene
For this story, ProPublica and AL.com filed multiple public information requests to identify the more than 1,800 women arrested under the chemical endangerment law, then sifted through court records to find the cases related to pregnancy. The data showed that at least 479 new and expecting mothers have been prosecuted across Alabama since 2006, or more than three times the number previously identified. Many others have been investigated in the chemical-endangerment version of stop-and-frisk, their lives turned upside down by an intrusive — and women’s advocates say, unconstitutional — dragnet of drug testing without their knowledge or, sometimes, their explicit consent. The goal of the law is to protect children by removing them from unsafe settings and mothers too impaired and unstable to provide proper care. Prosecutors contend the law has been the impetus for hundreds of women to get treatment and restart their lives, with prison as the price for those who choose not to or who fail. Yet there’s nothing in the statute to distinguish between an addict who puts her baby at grave risk and a stressed-out single mom who takes a harmless dose of a friend’s anti-anxiety medication. There are no standards for law enforcement officials or judges to follow: Is the presence of drugs in the mother’s body cause for charges if the baby tests clean? What test results are appropriate for medical providers to report and when? Should a mother face charges even when she was using a prescription drug under a doctor’s supervision? Local prosecutors and courts have wide discretion. Some of the most wrenching effects of the law can be seen in the area of parental rights. Chemical endangerment is considered a form of child abuse, and a woman accused of exposing her baby to drugs in utero is at risk of losing custody of all her children, not just her newborn.
Prosecutors denounce Speaker Mike Hubbard’s claims that ethics law is unconstitutional
Prosecutors fired back Monday at House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s claims that parts of the Alabama ethics law are unconstitutional. In a brief filed in Lee County Circuit Court, they wrote that Hubbard has essentially claimed that it’s legal for public officials to accept money from private interests in exchange for special treatment. “Boiled down to its essence, Hubbard’s argument is that he has a constitutional right to be a legislator lobbyist, or perhaps a lobbyist legislator, who earns an extremely handsome living by catering to the interests of his powerful lobbying clients and using his public position to advance their goals ahead of those of the average citizens who elected him to that position,” prosecutors wrote. In August, Hubbard asked the court to dismiss the charges against him, saying he had a First Amendment right to lobby on behalf of his business clients, among other claims. Last year, a special grand jury in Lee County indicted Hubbard on 23 felony ethics counts, alleging that he used his position as speaker and former position as state chairman of the Republican Party to benefit himself and his businesses. He has pleaded not guilty. Judge Jacob Walker postponed the trial from October until March, at Hubbard’s request. Four counts against Hubbard accuse him of lobbying for private firms, Southeast Alabama Gas District and a business owned by Robert Abrams called CV Holdings, before the governor’s office and the Department of Commerce, for compensation. Hubbard’s lawyers, in the motion filed last month, said the section of the ethics law used on those counts is unconstitutional because it imposes a blanket prohibition on public officials lobbying for or representing private interests without regard to whether their doing so poses a conflict of interest. “No justification for (the law) can outweigh a citizens’ fundamental right to lobby, nor can it be reconciled with the stated legislative intent of the Ethics Act not to deny legislators the opportunity, available to all other citizens, to acquire and retain economic and other private interests,” Hubbard’s lawyers wrote. The section of the ethics law in question on the four lobbying charges was one of the laws passed during a special session in 2010, shortly after Republicans took control of the Legislature in a campaign led by Hubbard. In their motion filed Monday, prosecutors noted that the speaker had once hailed the new laws as historic. “It is my hope that future historians will say that this was the legislature that brought the reforms Alabama had needed for so long and that fundamentally changed how state government operates,” Hubbard wrote in his 2012 book, “Storming the State House: The Campaign that Liberated Alabama from 136 years of Democrat Rule.”
Planned Parenthood fights Bentley’s efforts to end Medicaid payments
Planned Parenthood is asking a federal judge to stop Gov. Robert Bentley’s administration from ending Medicaid payments to the organization’s Alabama clinics. A federal judge will hold a hearing Tuesday morning on Planned Parenthood Southeast’s request for a preliminary injunction. Bentley last month announced that he was seeking to terminate agreements that allow Planned Parenthood to be paid for providing services to Medicaid patients. Bentley’s action came in the wake of undercover videos shot by abortion opponents that accused the organization of selling fetal organs after abortions. Planned Parenthood has denied the accusations and said the videos are misleading. Planned Parenthood says Medicaid patients have a right to choose their health care provider. A 21-year-old woman, who has received contraceptive shots from Planned Parenthood, joined the lawsuit against the state.
Hoover donates BP settlement check to school district
Hoover City Schools got some help with its budget deficit Monday night in the form of a one-time check from the City of Hoover. Mayor Gary Ivey presented a big check representing $345,880.75 to Hoover City Schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy and members of the Board of Education at Monday night’s meeting. The money was what the city received in a settlement with BP over the Gulf oil spill, Ivey said. The donation comes a week after the Hoover Board of Education approved a budget in which revenues come about $10.4 million short of covering expected expenses. The one-time payment won’t do much to solve that problem, but it will help cover some expenses, Murphy said. “We are very grateful to Mayor Ivey and too our city council for allowing the BP money to come our way,” Murphy said. “There are lots of ways that that money can be used.”
State Superintendent Tommy Bice accepts 26 percent pay raise
MONTGOMERY, Alabama — State Education Superintendent Tommy Bice has accepted a 26 percent pay raise approved Wednesday by the Alabama State Board of Education. The new contract increases the superintendent’s compensation from $198,000 a year to $250,000, matching the salary of two-year college Chancellor Mark Heinrich. A copy of Bice’s new contract, released today by the Alabama State Department of Education, shows Bice and school board Vice President Ella Bell signed the contract Wednesday. [Download copies of Bice’s new and old contracts here] Bice said after the afternoon vote he had only asked for an extension of his contract and that he had not decided whether to accept the pay raise. “The last thing I want in this state is for us to take this great work that we’re doing doing across this state and (have) something become a distraction,” he said. Meanwhile, Gov. Robert Bentley’s office released a statement supporting the pay raise for Bice. The new superintendent contract lasts a period of three years and five months. It provides for additional benefits for Bice, including a $1,750 per month housing allowance. The pay raise for Bice comes after Gov. Robert Bentley signed an education budget from the Legislature this year that awarded no raises to teachers. The raise came at the recommendation of an ad hoc subcommittee appointed by Bell, who said Bentley asked her to form the committee to reconsider Bice’s compensation.
Slave mural, swastikas, photos of convicted felons may be removed from Jefferson County Courthouse
A mural of black people stooped over and picking cotton; the smiling faces of convicted felons; swastikas etched into a marble wall. These “disturbing” images may soon be removed from the Jefferson County Courthouse as commissioners work to re-brand a county for years marred by sewer debt, bankruptcy and corruption. Commissioner Sandra Little-Brown today raised the issue of “the Old South” — a 1930s mural that greets visitors near the courthouse’s Linn Park entrance. The image shows a white woman in flowing gown standing over slaves picking cotton at her feet. It is one of two 17 ½-by-8-foot murals painted by Chicago artist John Warner Norton that depict the agrarian Old South and the industrial new South. Norton made the paintings in 1931-32 after being hired by Chicago architectural firm Holabird & Root. That’s the firm that designed the Jefferson County Courthouse and also Chicago’s Soldier Field. “It’s a picture of racism,” she said. “We’ve come a long ways and it says racism is still vibrant and valid in Jefferson County…This picture says I’m not going to be treated fairly.” Commissioner David Carrington said the county should also remove swastikas that stand at the entrance of the courthouse and pictures of convicted former commissioners from outside the commission chambers. The swastikas have adorned the front of the marble walls on either side of the Jefferson County Courthouse steps since 1931, a few years before Nazi Germany appropriated a similar pattern. The symbols are also pointed in a reverse direction from the Nazi swastika. Previous research shows the symbol is an Indian peace sign. When Nazi Germany made a reversed version of it part of its national flag, it forever turned the pattern into a symbol of hate. “Some people perceive that as a vestige of Nazism,” Carrington said. Outside commission chambers are photos of Larry Langford, Mary Buckelew, Jeff Germany and Gary White, all convicted of corruption. There is a frame but no picture for John Katopodis, another convicted former commissioner. These images are just as disturbing as the mural Little-Brown wants removed, Carrington said. “We are a brand new county,” Carrington said.”We cannot be defined by our past.”
New emails reveal the worst in Mike Hubbard case
Mike Hubbard’s own emails, filed this week by prosecutors in the ethics case against Alabama’s speaker of the house, say all that needs to be said. They make it clear. It does not matter if Hubbard is guilty of the 23 charges against him. It doesn’t. What matters, and what is clearest, is that he is the worst example of the worst kind of politician. He is the worst kind of leader, coming to his job with his hand out and complaining all the while about the hours and the pay of the job he campaigned to do. He is the worst kind of representative, putting himself above his people and his promises and the public good. He is the worst. Just look at a few of those emails, filed in court this week by prosecutors responding to defense motions to dismiss the charges against Hubbard. Like those in which Hubbard wrote to former Gov. Bob Riley about luring a business to Abbeville. It would be a great thing, he wrote, because he had to prove his worth to Southeast Alabama Gas District, which agreed to pay him $12,000 a month as an economic development consultant. “The SE Alabama Gas District told me when they signed me up that Abbeville should be considered my top priority because of their dire needs,” he wrote to Riley. “If it could work out, it would be a huge win for me fir (sic) a lot of reasons.” Illegal? Twelve of Hubbard’s peers will decide that next spring. Unconscionable? You bet. This is a guy who vowed to lure jobs and businesses to the state when he was elected, who turned around and did it for money on the side. It wasn’t about voters. It was about him. And those who paid him. “They (the gas district) told me Abeville (sic) was their top priority,” he wrote to Riley in February 2012. “Plus, I would be a hero to Jimmy Rane! I will work on some others. Showing them I am working is very important. Some of the board members apparently were against hiring me because of my lack of experience in economic development.” Hubbard admitted he didn’t know what he was doing and was unsure how to impress the gas district. So when Riley advised him to set up a tour of Abbeville and enlist Rane, Hubbard was ecstatic. “That is a great plan! I will make it happen,” Hubbard wrote. “I don’t know what I’m doing, Governor, so I’m thankful for the guidance. I’d love to make a splash early.” Illegal? That is not for me to decide. The worst? Absolutely. This is a man holding out a shingle as the speaker of the Alabama House, selling his influence to perform jobs he has no expertise to do. Because the $70,000 taxpayers pay him is chump change, and the work too hard. As he wrote Riley after the House met almost to 1 a.m. one day in March of 2011, “The hours and pay for this job is not good. I really want to work for BR&A (Bob Riley & Associates.)” Illegal? Not this one. Telling? Oh yes. There are emails detailing how Hubbard’s potential clients debated whether he could actually legally serve as a lobbyist, and how they decided to call him a “consultant” instead, just to be safe. Illegal? His neighbors in Lee County will determine that. Insulting? Oh, my goodness. You can’t rationalize bad behavior by calling it something else. I didn’t steal that candy bar? I just borrowed it. There is more in these emails. Like the way he pestered people for jobs, scoping out his chances at Altec and Austal and elsewhere. How he told Riley he could work as a subcontractor to Bob Riley & Associates to do PR for a state agency for $10,000 a month. There’s the way he asked to use Riley’s daughter’s member number at the Mountain Brook Club to get lunch, the way he asked if he could be appointed to paying corporate boards, the way he looked at the job of the Alabama Speaker of the House as if it were a pathway to riches. There’s even the way he pandered to Riley. “I am thankful for my Risen Lord,” he wrote to Riley. “Especially today. And also for you – my friend, mentor and role model.” Illegal? No. It’s just … uncomfortable. But again, the question is not just whether any of it is illegal at all. That will be decided. What is sure is that Hubbard’s behavior is shameful. It is the worst affront to the people of Alabama, the worst reward for Republicans who expected better, and one of the worst examples of leadership ever seen in this state. Alabama deserves better. And that’s for sure.
Chris Christie Wants More Nuclear Power. The Harder Question Is What To Do About the Waste.
For presidential candidate Chris Christie, the only thing worse than being compared to Barack Obama would comparing him to a French person. At one point during last week’s debate, however, Christie might as well have been singing La Marseillaise: “When I was governor, I pulled out of the regional cap and trade deal, the only state in the Northeast that did that. And we still reached our goals. Why? Because 53 percent of our electricity comes from nuclear.” France is the world’s leading nuclear power, generating about 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy. The U.S., by comparison, uses nuclear power to generate less than 20 percent of our electricity. Sacré bleu! Not only is nuclear power’s light carbon footprint good for the environment, it’s abundantly available and could help secure U.S. energy independence. Given these environmental, economic and national security benefits, you would think nuclear power would be something the left and right (and France!!) could actually agree on. But nope. Liberals are generally concerned that that nuclear power plants would put us at risk of another Chernobyl or Fukushima, which is patently false fear-mongering. Chernobyl was caused by a rare combination of human error with a severely flawed Soviet-era reactor design, and Fukushima was preventable. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: The plant would have withstood the tsunami had its design previously been upgraded in accordance with state-of-the-art safety approaches… At the time of the accident, critical safety systems in nuclear power plants in some countries, especially in European states, were—as a matter of course—much better protected than in Japan. “I was very disturbed by all the negative and in many cases unfounded hysteria regarding nuclear power after the Fukushima accident,” said Pushker A. Kharecha, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. According to a report recently authored by Kharecha, using nuclear power in place of fossil-fuel energy sources, such as coal, has prevented close to 2 million air pollution-related deaths globally and could save millions of more lives in coming decades. The problem with nuclear power isn’t environmental – it’s political. As documented by science journalists Alex B. Berezow and Hank Campbell, “On energy issues, progressive liberals tend to be antinuclear because of the waste-disposal problem.” But Republicans are equally at a loss when it comes to reconciling the issue of nuclear waste. When nuclear waste is reprocessed to create more electricity, it also happens to become more radioactive. It’s for this reason that, in 1977, President Jimmy Carter halted all nuclear reprocessing in a shortsighted attempt to combat nuclear proliferation and set a non-nuclear example for other countries to follow. Unfortunately for Carter, no one followed. More:
The Insiders: What we learn from Perry’s and Walker’s exits
What can we learn from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and former Texas governor Rick Perry’s (R) early exits from the 2016 race? The biggest takeaway from my perspective is that super PACs are not a substitute for real campaigns — at least not yet. I guess that is good public policy, if we want our candidates to really be in charge of and responsible for their own campaigns. But I suppose unless something drastic changes, during the next cycle there is a possibility that candidates could become just a prop while these “unaffiliated, non-coordinating entities” run a campaign around the candidate who just putters around by him or herself. In Perry’s case, it’s my guess that his heart was not really in it. He’s never had to raise money in a truly competitive environment, and I guess it wasn’t as fun as he thought it would be. In Walker’s case, I’m mystified as to why he left the race. Maybe Walker was afflicted by the Pawlenty syndrome and simply quit too soon. He took himself out of the game before anything remotely close to the outcome was clear. But hopefully his debacle will provide some good lessons learned for campaigns in the future. I read that Walker had 90 paid campaign staffers, including a full-time photographer. Could that be true? What were the budget assumptions that made those hiring decisions possible? Was the campaign delusional? An incumbent governor has a reliable Rolodex of contributors, and the campaign should have been able to properly anticipate the fundraising and prepare a budget accordingly. For the most part, I believe running for president is never a bad career move unless you run up a debt or do something that sticks you with an unflattering caricature. Well, perhaps there is now a “Walker exception” to that rule. Running for president and persuading others to join you, then bailing after a few months before anything really bad happens, could damage you in the party and cause the media to be skeptical about any plans you may have in the future. Who will be next to go in the Republican primary? Keep an eye out for an important threshold: Oct. 15, the next filing deadline for presidential campaigns’ quarterly FEC reports. The closer a candidate is to having $30 million net cash-on-hand, the stronger that candidate is. And don’t forget, this isn’t just limited to the Republicans — that rule of thumb also applies to Hillary Clinton. I hear she is burning through a lot of cash.
BIDEN A GO? – A Dem insider emails that word inside the Draft Biden operation is “it’s a done deal that Joe runs.” Of course people who want to draft Biden WOULD say that but still…
HILLARY A NO ON KEYSTONE – POLITICO’s Annie Karni: “Hillary Clinton opposes building the Keystone XL pipeline, she said on Tuesday, ending her long refusal to take a stand on a controversial issue that has become a flashpoint in the Democratic primary. ‘I think it is imperative that we look at the Keystone Pipeline as what I believe it is, a distraction from important work we have to do on climate change. And unfortunately from my perspective, one that interferes with our ability to move forward with all other issues. Therefore I oppose it,’ Clinton said at a campaign event in Iowa.
“Some Keystone opponents have distrusted Clinton based on her one public comment about the pipeline — off-the-cuff remarks at a San Francisco speaking engagement in 2010 in which she said the department was ‘inclined’ to green-light the project. … Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, also indicated he favors the pipeline during remarks in 2012 that still appear in pro-Keystone television ads” http://politi.co/1LuS1UA
SOMEHOW IT JUST HAPPENED that Clinton made her remarks just as Pope Francis landed for his visit to DC. The comments came in response to a question but it’s certainly possible to encourage someone to ask about it at a certain time ….
NEW BENGHAZI EMAILS EMERGE – POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein and Rachael Bade report: “More previously undisclosed State Department emails related to Benghazi have surfaced in a federal court filing, offering a public accounting of at least some of the records still being sought by congressional investigators. The filing Monday in a [FOIA] lawsuit brought by the conservative group Citizens United describes about a dozen Benghazi-related emails that were withheld in whole or in part as State responded to one of the group’s requests seeking information about contacts between a top aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and officials with the Clinton Foundation.
“Most of the documents also appear to have been withheld from the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which is investigating State’s response to the attack. … State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach told POLITICO there is no effort to impede congressional probes” http://politi.co/1NRRbDc
BLANKFEIN DISCLOSES CANCER DIAGNOSIS – POLITICO’s Ben White and Nick Gass: “Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs Group for the last decade, announced in an email Tuesday that he has a ‘highly curable’ form of lymphoma and will undergo chemotherapy treatments over the next several months in New York. Blankfein, who friends say appeared notably thinner in recent weeks, is the second Wall Street CEO in recent months to undergo treatment for cancer. Jamie Dimon, the chief executive at JPMorganChase, underwent treatment for throat cancer last year but never relinquished leadership of the bank.
“Blankfein also plans to stay on the job while receiving treatment. He is one of the few remaining Wall Street CEOs, along with Dimon, who led his firm during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. He took over after former CEO, Hank Paulson, became Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush. … Blankfein received his diagnosis of lymphoma, which effects the immune system, on Monday at 4:00 p.m. and informed Goldman’s board of directors at 7:00 p.m., followed by discussions with senior members of Goldman management, a person familiar with the matter said.”
DEEP BENCH – “Friends say he was relieved to finally get the diagnosis and begin treatment after several weeks of worry. He skipped an event Monday night in New York focusing on technology firms. Gary Cohn, Goldman’s chief operating officer, filled in for Blankfein. Cohn, Goldman’s longtime number two, is expected to continue to fill in for Blankfein at events when needed.
“A number of other senior Goldman executives, including chief financial officer Harvey Schwartz, investment banking co-head David Solomon and London-based vice chairman Michael Sherwood, are often mentioned as possible successors to Blankfein and could take on some of the chief executive’s responsibilities as needed.” http://politi.co/1FsxA9G
MARYLAND GOVERNOR BEAT BACK LYMPHOMA – Matthew A. Clark, Director of Communications for Maryland Governor Larry Hogam emails: “Hogan was diagnosed with Stage 3 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma this summer. He wraps up his 6th round of 5-day 24-hour chemo next month but has remained firmly in control of Maryland’s Government throughout his treatments. Undergoing chemotherapy while successfully running a $40 billion enterprise is challenging, but Governor Hogan is a fighter and has a track record of overcoming obstacles.”
MAYBE THERE WILL BE A JOBS REPORT IN A SHUTDOWN? – Stuart Roy, a former DOL employee under President George W. Bush emails: “The jobs report is completed and given to the White House/Council of Economic Advisors on Wednesday before the Friday of release. It would only be delayed if the admin wanted it to be delayed so they could inflict pain. Or at least that was how it worked when I was the head of public affairs under at DOL … BLS’ only job on Friday is the brief the DOL secretary and senior staff on the numbers but its not even necessary.”
Anyone else care to weigh in on this one? Email me.
THIS MORNING ON POLITICO PRO FINANCIAL SERVICES — Adam Behsudi on Democratic claims that Republicans say the Ex-Im Bank will be taken up soon [http://politico.pro/1L5cdhi] For Pro’s subscriber-only coverage — and to get Morning Money every day before 6 a.m. — please contact Pro Services at (703) 341-4600 or email@example.com
“THE BIG SHORT” TRAILER IS UP – HuffPo’s Julia Brucculieri: “The first trailer for the anticipated ‘The Big Short’ has just been released, and it packs a star-studded punch. Directed by Adam McKay and starring Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Christian Bale and Brad Pitt, the film centers on the build-up of the financial crisis that swept the globe from 2007 to 2010. The trailer offers a glimpse into the working lives of the four men — Steve Eisman (Carell), Greg Lippmann (Gosling), Michael Burry (Bale) and Ben Hockett (Pitt) — who predicted the economic collapse and essentially ‘bet against the American economy.’” http://huff.to/1NL8i88
YELLEN FACES QUESTIONS OVER FED COMMUNICATION – Reuters: “As the U.S. Federal Reserve’s chief communicator, Chair Janet Yellen is under building pressure among her colleagues and global investors to clarify where the world’s biggest central bank is heading and how it is making its decisions. … The calls have come from both her policy opponents like St. Louis Fed President James Bullard and more centrist sympathizers like Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart, as well as market analysts and investors who say they have been confused about the Fed’s direction.
“It is perhaps her biggest test yet as she tries to guide a committee currently divided between those who feel the U.S. economy has healed enough for a rate hike, and those who feel a weak global economy could undermine the country’s growth and recovery.” http://reut.rs/1NPyYGh
ZERO YIELD TREASURY BONDS HIGHLIGHT GLOBAL RISK – WSJ’s Min Zeng and Ira Iosebashvili: “A $15 billion sale of U.S. government debt attracted record demand, even though the securities, which mature in a month, were sold with an interest rate of zero. Auctions for one-month Treasurys haven’t produced more than a few hundredths of a percentage point of yield going back more than two years. But the record bids on Tuesday highlighted the depth of uncertainty about global economic conditions and investors’ desire to park cash where they know it will be available tomorrow.
“The Treasury auction drew bids of $9.47 for each dollar of bonds on offer, surpassing the previous high from a December 2011 Treasury bill sale. Treasury prices broadly strengthened, and commodities and stocks declined, as investors retreated from riskier assets amid fresh anxiety over the health of China. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 179.72 points, or 1.1 percent, to 16330.47, its third drop in four trading days. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note dropped to 2.127 percent, the lowest closing level since Aug. 24” http://on.wsj.com/1G1m2VQ
GLOBAL CAR INUDSTRY IN TURMOIL – FT: “The global car industry was thrown into turmoil on Tuesday as Volkswagen said up to 11m of its vehicles could be affected by the growing diesel emissions scandal and governments worldwide launched investigations into the company. Shares in carmakers in Europe and the US tumbled, as investors worried that the scandal could draw in other carmakers and threaten the future of diesel technology …
“The Stoxx Europe 600 autos index was down 7.6 per cent — the sharpest one-day fall since August 2011. Shares in General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler also plunged. Martin Winterkorn, VW chief executive, vowed to fight on, saying in a video statement that he was ‘endlessly sorry’ that the carmaker had betrayed the trust of its customers but would do everything in his power to restore faith in one of Germany’s proudest industrial companies. He was speaking four days after US regulators revealed that VW had used ‘defeat devices’ to cheat US emissions tests for its diesel cars, opening itself to multibillion-dollar fines and possible criminal charges. The scandal is threatening to become the most serious in the company’s 78-year history.” http://on.ft.com/1G1mxz7
FIORINA DEFENDS TENURE – POLITICO’s Eliza Collins: “Carly Fiorina’s campaign is defending her record as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. In a post published on Medium, Fiorina’s Deputy Campaign Manager Sarah Isgur Flores took on criticism about the candidate, pushing back on recent reports characterizing the retired tech executive’s tenure as a failure.” http://politi.co/1Qx4mXG
TURING REVERSES DRUG PICE HIKE – Reuters: “Turing Pharmaceuticals, a small company that generated outrage over raising the cost of an old anti-infective drug by more than 5,000 percent, said on Tuesday it would roll back that increase to make sure it remains affordable. Turing and its Chief Executive Officer Martin Shkreli became the new face of the U.S. drug pricing controversy this week, after the New York Times reported that the company had raised the price of Daraprim, a 62-year-old treatment for a dangerous parasitic infection, to $750 a pill from $13.50 after acquiring it. The medicine once sold for $1 a pill.
“In an interview on CNBC on Monday, an unapologetic Shkreli said that Daraprim had been priced too low and that his company needed to generate profits that it would spend on new research and development. PhRMA member companies have made similar arguments on the need to price new drugs high enough to ensure that they have enough to cover their R&D investments. Asked if he would lower the price in response to the furor, Shkreli simply responded, ‘No.’” http://reut.rs/1Job6Sf
XI FACES UNEASY BUSINESS LEADERS IN SEATTLE – NYT’s Jane Perlez: “When President Xi Jinping of China addresses American business executives here Tuesday night, he will face a crowd that was once one of China’s biggest cheerleaders but whose enthusiasm has waned. … A star-studded cast of corporate America will be listening for the fine print if, as expected, Mr. Xi tells it that China Inc. is open for business. Friction has been growing over China’s barriers to market access, rampant commercial cybertheft and the imposition of intrusive security measures on foreign technology companies.
“The Chinese worked hard to front-load Mr. Xi’s trip — his first to the United States as president — with two days of events in Seattle designed to show an upbeat relationship with American business. And in a broad sense it has worked as a show of force to President Obama about the power that China wields, and how much American companies need China even if its policies do not align with Washington’s. Yet frustrations are simmering” http://nyti.ms/1QXXR10
TRUMP’S NEW FOX FEUD – POLITICO’s Nick Gass: “Donald Trump and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly have had a Twitter war of words, reigniting his feud with the network” http://politi.co/1QwFm2M
SHUTDOWN BATTLE COMMENCES – POLITICO’s Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim: “If the government shuts down, Mitch McConnell wants to make sure the Senate isn’t to blame. After trying to keep his strategy under wraps for days, the Senate majority leader made his first moves on Tuesday to avoid a lapse in federal funding on Oct. 1. But it’s a legislative strategy that still has risks for Republicans and could confront the House GOP with a do-or-die vote right at the deadline to keep the government open.
“McConnell set up a Thursday vote that would fund the government through Dec. 11 while gutting federal funding for Planned Parenthood and boosting defense spending by $13 billion — an approach favored by conservatives on the right. That legislation will fail due to Democratic opposition … McConnell could then turn to a ‘clean’ funding bill that Democrats have promised to support. …
“There’s a growing consensus that the Republican-controlled Senate, which had long planned to wait until it sees what kind of funding bill the House could pass, will have to move first on averting a government shutdown. The House is not in session until Thursday, when House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will huddle with his caucus to discuss whether to move on what the Senate sends over or forge ahead on a more aggressive plan that could risk a shutdown” http://politi.co/1KuaxKO
ALSO FOR YOUR RADAR –
CHAMBER HITS DOL RULE – Per the U.S. Chamber: “The comment period for the Department of Labor’s proposed fiduciary rule may be closing Thursday, but small business owners across the country still have a lot to say about the rule. On the U.S. Chamber’s www.betteradvicemorechoices.com, small business owners like Jamie Tridico, a physical therapist and owner of Advanced Physical Therapy in Charleston, West Virginia, share the negative impact the rule will have on them and their employees.” http://uscham.com/1KqWZRu.
HFSC HEARING PREP – SNL’s Elizabeth Festa reports on the House Financial Services Committee hearing set for next week on domestic insurance that is likely to focus on “proposed standards for nonbank SIFis and other areas where federal and state supervision might overlap.” http://bit.ly/1NRWv9E
HEDGE FUNDS BUY UP SUBPRIME LOANS – Via the Center for Public Integrity: “Seven years after the real estate market crashed and took the economy down with it, major investors are again buying mortgages by the thousands. But instead of dealing with shady subprime lenders, they are buying many of those same shaky loans from the government — at a significant discount. Under a special government program, in December 2013, HUD sold Uwansc’s mortgage along with 802 others to a fund created by Oaktree Capital, a hedge fund. It was a great deal for Oaktree. The fund bought the pool of mortgages for about two-thirds of the $105.7 million HUD estimated the homes were worth.” http://bit.ly/1PqN3Y3
Tom Krebs is a securities attorney in Mountain Brook, Alabama.
HARVARD SEEKS SHORT-SELLERS – FT’s Stephen Foley in New York: “Harvard is looking for investment managers with expertise as short-sellers, as the world’s biggest university endowment becomes more cautious about the outlook for financial markets. In its latest annual report, which showed investment returns fell to 5.8 per cent in the year to June, the $38bn endowment said its managers had started to increase cash holdings and feared that some markets had become ‘frothy’.” http://on.ft.com/1Fe59g0
OUT TODAY: VIRTUAL SCHOOL, THE FIGHT OVER SNACKS AND ARNE DUNCAN’S POLICY BATTLES: The Agenda’s education issue takes a dive into the rapidly expanding world of virtual schools, explores the battle over fresh snacks, and explains how Secretary Arne Duncan became Washington’s public enemy No.1 by trying to help kids. This latest special report from The Agenda looks at the challenges facing American education policy— and what Washington should really be paying attention to. Check out the issue: http://politi.co/1QxID1N
9:00 a.m. President welcome’s Pope Francis to the White House
The House and the Senate will be out of session for the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur.
The Importance of Workforce Size Under the Employer Shared Responsibility Provisions
Under the Affordable Care Act, certain employers — called applicable large employers – are subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions. An employer that is subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions may choose to offer affordable minimum essential coverage that provides minimum value to its full-time employees and their dependents, or to potentially owe an employer shared responsibility payment to the IRS. Many employers already offer coverage that is sufficient to avoid owing a payment.
Whether an you are an applicable large employer, and are therefore subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions, depends on the size of the your workforce. The vast majority of employers fall below the workforce size threshold and, therefore, are not subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions.
You will determine each year – based on your average employee count for the 12 months of the prior year – whether you’re an applicable large employer for the current year. Just for 2015, an employer may measure over any consecutive six-month period during 2014, rather than measuring all 12 months of 2014.
A full-time employee is an employee with at least 130 hours of service in a calendar month. To determine your number of your full-time equivalent employees for each month, you combine the number of hours of service for all non-full-time employees – up to 120 hours per employee – and divide the total by 120.
If you had fewer than 50 full-time employees in the preceding year, including full-time equivalent employees, you are not an applicable large employer for the current year. If you had 50 or more full-time employees in the preceding year, including full-time equivalent employees, you are an applicable large employer for the current year. However, for 2015, employers with fewer than 100 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees, in 2014 will not be subject to an employer shared responsibility payment if they meet certain conditions. Question 34 on the employer shared responsibility employer shared responsibility provision questions and answers page on IRS.gov/aca provides more details regarding these conditions. All types of employers can be applicable large employers, regardless of the nature of the organization; this includes, for example, tax-exempt organizations and government entities.
For more information about how to determine whether your organization is an applicable large employer, including special rules for seasonal workers, new employers, and related employers, see Determining if an Employer is an Applicable Large Employer.
For more information on the employer shared responsibility provisions in general, see IRS.gov/aca. For more information on the information reporting responsibilities that apply to applicable large employers see our Questions and Answers on Reporting of Offers of Health Insurance Coverage by Employers.