Al Jazeera Journalists Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison in Egypt
CAIRO — An Egyptian judge on Saturday handed down an unexpectedly harsh verdict in the trial of three journalists from the Al Jazeera English news channel, sentencing them to three years in prison on charges that legal experts said were unfounded and politically motivated. The verdict was especially stunning because Egyptian officials had repeatedly signaled that they viewed the trial as a nuisance that had brought unwanted scrutiny of the government. The families of the journalists, Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste, said they had expected that the men would either be exonerated or sentenced to time already served. But instead, the judge, Hassan Farid, upheld what human rights advocates said was among many baseless accusations leveled during the journalists’ long legal odyssey: that they had “broadcast false news” about Egypt on Al Jazeera. The judge also said that the men, who had all previously worked for other international news organizations, were not journalists because they lacked the necessary credentials. Prosecutors had accused them of plotting with the Muslim Brotherhood to produce false news reports, but had offered no evidence of either collaboration with the Brotherhood or of any erroneous broadcasts. The verdict appeared to reinforce a growing conviction among analysts and diplomats that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who rules without a legislature, does not command full obedience from Egypt’s fractious bureaucracy, including its courts. Mr. Sisi has said in the past that he would have deported the journalists rather than try them. At the same time, the verdict suggested enthusiasm in Egypt’s ruling circles for restricting free speech, even two years after the military takeover that brought Mr. Sisi to power. “I’m completely shocked,” said Adel Fahmy, Mr. Fahmy’s brother, after the verdict was read. “Everything was pointing towards exoneration today. They keep on disappointing us with this unbelievable judicial system.” Mr. Fahmy and Mr. Mohamed, who had been free on bail, were remanded into custody after the hearing on Saturday. Mr. Greste, an Australian citizen, was deported in February under a presidential decree that allows the expulsion of foreigners convicted of crimes. Mr. Fahmy, who holds Canadian citizenship, could still be deported under the same decree, but Mr. Mohamed, an Egyptian citizen, would not be eligible. Their families and lawyers said they would appeal the sentence. Amal Clooney, a lawyer for Mr. Fahmy, told journalists after the hearing that she would ask Mr. Sisi to pardon her client and his colleagues. “What just happened in that courtroom was an outrage,” Ms. Clooney said. The State Department said in a statement that the United States was “deeply disappointed and concerned” by the verdict, which “undermines the very freedom of expression necessary for stability and development.”
Natural gas discovery could be largest ever
ROME/MILAN, Aug 30 (Reuters) – Italian energy group Eni said on Sunday it had discovered the largest known gas field in the Mediterranean off the Egyptian coast, predicting the find could help meet Egypt’s gas needs for decades to come. The Italian major said in a statement the offshore “Zohr” field could hold 30 trillion cubic feet of gas, covering an area of about 100 square kilometres (60 square miles). “Zohr is the largest gas discovery ever made in Egypt and in the Mediterranean Sea and could become one of the world’s largest natural-gas finds,” it said, adding that it had full concession rights to the area. The find follows other significant gas discoveries in the Mediterranean in recent years, including off neighbouring Israel. This is expected to have a major impact on the region’s economy and potentially offer Europe new supply options, allowing it to lessen its dependence on Russian gas imports. It also represents a major boost for Egypt, where power cuts caused by gas and oil shortages have often fuelled unrest.
If the Options Market Is Right, China’s Stock Rescue Is Doomed
Options traders have never been so pessimistic on China’s stock market, betting the government’s renewed effort to prop up share prices is doomed to fail. The cost of bearish contracts on the China 50 exchange-traded fund has surged to the highest level versus bullish ones since they started trading in Shanghai six months ago. The so-called skew also climbed to a record for a similar ETF in the U.S., even as government buying drove China’s benchmark index to a 10 percent rally in the final two days of last week. While policy makers are trying to bolster the market before President Xi Jinping takes the stage in a World War II victory parade this week, bears argue that valuations are too high for the rally to last. Chinese investors have about 5 trillion yuan ($783 billion) of borrowed money riding on stocks, and many of them are looking for a chance to exit, according to Bank of America Corp. “More and more people are not convinced about A shares,” said Tony Chu, a Hong Kong-based money manager at RS Investment Management Co., which oversees about $20 billion. “Ultimately, the government needs to reduce intervention and let more de-leveraging happen.”
‘Snoring’ rooms the new luxury home craze
Forget the movie room, the formal dining room or the big, open-plan family room. The new must-have room among wealthy buyers in the United Kingdom is the “snoring” room — the place where your snoring spouse sleeps so both of you can get a decent night’s rest. Luxury home developers focusing on a rich clientele are increasingly designing “his and hers” bedrooms for rich couples, the London Times reported Monday. On architects’ plans, this new bedroom tends to be described as the “second master suite”, the paper reported. But everyone knows what it’s really for. Respite from a snoring spouse, or one who loves late-night reading, late-night television or late-night laptop viewing — basically anything an irritating spouse may do that keeps the other from getting their 40 winks. Stephen Lindsay, the head of the upmarket Savills estate agency in the posh St. John’s Wood neighborhood of London, is quoted by the paper as saying that demand for a second master suite was growing, especially among the many international buyers that swamp the London real estate market. “They are both tickled by the English humor when we announce the snoring room, but also attracted to the flexibility that it allows,” he was quoted as saying by the Sunday Times, the paper’s sister paper. “Often pegged as a second master or VIP guest suite, developers are adding snoring rooms to new properties to meet this buyer appetite,” he said. “As wealth increases, demand for comfort increases, and it’s now pretty commonplace, with most developers incorporating a second master into their plans,” Peter Brookes, the associate director of Savills in the upmarket Hampstead neighborhood was quoted as saying. The paper said the trend was not only confined to the ultra-rich. One in six British couples do not share a double bed, according to a study by the Sleep Council, which represents bed manufacturers. Some prefer separate rooms to twin beds in the same room, the study showed.
Tom Krebs is a securities attorney in the United States.
Meet the CEO who offered his private jet to help the mothers of the American heroes in France
The private jets of CEOs get a bad rap, frequently tossed about as prime examples of corporate largesse. This week, one was put to very good use. On Sunday, Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle lent his Dassault Falcon 2000EX — which is owned by Boyle and his wife, not by the company — to a great cause. The three American men who subdued a gunman on a train bound for Paris were honored in a medal ceremony. Boyle offered his plane so their mothers and a brother could go to France to attend it. The generous lift came about after Boyle, whose family founded the Portland, Ore.-based outdoor gear company and has been CEO since 1989, got a call from his chief pilot Saturday night. The pilot had quite a request. The mothers of the three men, one of whom is a member of the Oregon Army National Guard, had been invited to the ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris, where their sons would receive France’s highest award, the Legion of Honor. But they could not make the pricey trip happen quickly enough. Could Boyle’s plane be used to ferry them? In an interview with The Washington Post, Boyle said he told his pilot he’d need to speak with his wife. “She and I spent about two seconds on it. That’s about as much thought as went into it.” After Boyle said yes, his pilot worked with the State Department, who helped resolve the fact that some of the mothers did not have passports, as well as coordinate the last-minute flight overseas, according to The Oregonian, which first reported the story.
Killing Abu Ghadiya
The untold story of a risky Delta Force mission to take out a senior al Qaeda militant inside Syria. he four helicopters scythed through the air, two Black Hawks full of Delta Force operators covered by a pair of AH-6 Little Birds, all headed for the Syrian border near Al Qaim. The aircraft were flown by some of the Army’s most skilled pilots, the Night Stalkers, but it was broad daylight — 4:45 p.m. on October 26, 2008. They were on their way to kill a man. That man was Abu Ghadiya, the nom de guerre of Badran Turki Hishan al-Mazidih, an Iraqi of about thirty years of age who ran the largest foreign fighter network in Syria. During the peak of the Iraq War in 2006 and 2007, Joint Special Operations Command — which oversees the Army’s Delta Force, the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, and other secretive and elite units — estimated Abu Ghadiya was running 120 to 150 foreign fighters (including twenty to thirty suicide bombers) a month into Iraq. Thanks to a spy in Abu Ghadiya’s camp and to signals intelligence facilitated by a JSOC operative’s repeated undercover missions to the area, the command had been carefully tracking him for months. The task force knew that he occasionally visited Iraq to maintain his bona fides with the fighters, but his regular base in the area was a safe house in Sukkariyah, a village near the town of Abu Kamal, six miles across the border from Al Qaim. It was to that village the helicopters were now flying. The raid on Sukkariyah had been nine months in the planning, but it became the only public evidence of a highly successful clandestine campaign waged inside Syria by JSOC elements since the earliest days of the Iraq War. JSOC’s history in the Levant stretched back to the work done during the 1980s by Delta and a secret unit nicknamed the Army of Northern Virginia that conducted both human and signals intelligence, including eavesdropping on militant cell phones and trying to intercept their emails. Since then, Delta had maintained a close relationship with Israeli special operations forces, with operators sometimes wearing Israeli uniforms when working in the Jewish state, while the Army of Northern Virginia (later known as Task Force Orange, or simply, Orange) had gradually deepened its network in the region. After the September 11 attacks raised U.S. awareness of Islamist terror threats, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2002 gave JSOC the green light to conduct missions in both Syria and Lebanon. The United States had deep concerns about the Quds Force’s operations in the region as well as Hezbollah’s huge influence in Lebanon. Special mission unit operators rated Hezbollah, not al Qaeda, as the “A-team” when it came to Islamist terrorism. “They make al Qaeda look like a joke,” said one.
White House renames Mount McKinley as Denali on eve of trip
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration will change the name of North America’s tallest mountain peak from Mount McKinley to Denali, the White House said Sunday, a major symbolic gesture to Alaska Natives on the eve of President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Alaska. By renaming the peak Denali, an Athabascan word meaning “the high one,” Obama waded into a sensitive and decades-old conflict between residents of Alaska and Ohio. Alaskans have informally called the mountain Denali for years, but the federal government recognizes its name invoking the 25th president, William McKinley, who was born in Ohio and assassinated early in his second term. “With our own sense of reverence for this place, we are officially renaming the mountain Denali in recognition of the traditions of Alaska Natives and the strong support of the people of Alaska,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. The announcement came as Obama prepared to open a three-day visit to Alaska aimed at infusing fresh urgency into his call to action on climate change. To the dismay of some Alaska Republicans, the White House has choreographed the trip to showcase melting glaciers and other cherished natural wonders in Alaska that Obama says are threatened by warmer temperatures. But Obama’s visit is also geared toward displaying solidarity with Alaska Natives, who face immense economic challenges and have warned of insufficient help from the federal government. As his first stop after arriving in Anchorage on Monday, Obama planned to hold a listening session with Alaska Natives. The president was also expected to announce new steps to help Alaska Native communities on Wednesday when he becomes the first sitting president to visit the Alaska Arctic.
Ohioans fuming over Mt. McKinley name change
Ohio lawmakers are voicing disappointment with President Obama’s decision to rename Alaska’s Mount McKinley to Denali, the name used by nearby natives. “There is a reason President McKinley’s name has served atop the highest peak in North America for more than 100 years, and that is because it is a testament to his great legacy,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement issued Sunday night. “I’m deeply disappointed in this decision,” Boehner said after noting that McKinley served in the Army during the Civil War before representing Ohio in Congress and as governor. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said in a statement posted to social media that he was similarly “disappointed” in the decision to rename the mountain long named after “a proud Ohioan.” “The naming of the mountain has been a topic of discussion in Congress for many years. This decision by the Administration is yet another example of the President going around Congress,” Portman said. “I now urge the Administration to work with me to find alternative ways to preserve McKinley’s legacy somewhere else in the national park that once bore his name,” Portman added. “This political stunt is insulting to all Ohioans, and I will be working with the House Committee on Natural Resources to determine what can be done to prevent this action,” Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) said in a statement. Obama announced Sunday his administration is renaming McKinley. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who is responsible for the federal body overseeing place names, said the name change recognizes a name sacred to Alaskans. Denali means “the great one” in the area Athabaskan language. Alaska’s congressional delegation has seen bipartisan support for legislation the rename the mountain, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) praised the news Sunday, thanking Obama in a statement and video posted online. “For centuries, Alaskans have known this majestic mountain as the ‘Great One.’ Today we are honored to be able to officially recognize the mountain as Denali,” she said in her statement.
Challenged on Left and Right, the Fed Faces a Decision on Rates
JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — Conservative activists who want the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates distributed chocolate coins in golden wrappers at the local airport last week as Fed officials arrived for their annual policy retreat. Liberal activists in green “Whose Recovery?” T-shirts formed a receiving line at the resort hotel in the heart of Grand Teton National Park where the meeting was held, to personalize their argument that the Fed should wait. Sometime soon — possibly as early as mid-September and probably no later than the end of the year — the Fed plans to raise its benchmark interest rate one-quarter of one percentage point, a mathematically minor move that has become a very big deal. Investors, who always pay attention to the Fed, are paying particular attention now. The central bank has held short-term rates near zero since December 2008; the impending end of that era is one cause of recent financial market turmoil. But the Fed’s plans have also become the latest point of contention in a broader debate about the government’s management of the American economy, pitting liberals who see a need for more aggressive measures to bolster growth against conservatives concerned that Washington and the Fed are already doing much too much.
Top Tobacco Bond Banker Departs Barclays
The go-to dealmaker in the market for tobacco bonds is gone from her post – a surprise departure that raises questions about the future direction of a once-burgeoning corner of Wall Street. Kym S. Arnone, a senior banker who, by her own count, helped engineer more than $40 billion of tobacco bond deals, is no longer with Barclays Capital, a bank spokesman confirmed last week. The reasons for Arnone’s departure are unclear. Some clients contacted by Barclays said they had been told the separation was “mutually agreeable” but not whether Arnone was joining a competitor. Bankers at competing firms also told ProPublica they were not aware if she had been hired elsewhere. Arnone did not respond to calls and emails, and the Barclays spokesman would not provide details. Tobacco bonds had been a hot segment of the $3.6 trillion market for municipal government debt. A 1998 legal settlement with cigarette manufacturers created demand for bonds, which netted upfront cash for state and local governments that were promised billions of dollars in future payments to compensate them for health-related costs of smoking. As ProPublica reported, tobacco bonds were a booming business from 2005 to 2008, when bankers like Arnone persuaded dozens of settlement recipients to borrow against their cut of the accord, sometimes for pennies on the dollar. These days, few new deals are coming to market. The most recent, a $750 million Louisiana transaction we wrote about in April, failed to get state legislators’ approval. Instead, governments have been retooling past tobacco bond issues that are heading for default thanks to bankers’ use of a risky form of borrowing known as capital appreciation bonds, or CABs. These bonds typically carry higher interest rates and require big balloon payments, often decades in the future.
Planned Parenthood Videos Were Altered, Analysis Finds
WASHINGTON — Planned Parenthood on Thursday gave congressional leaders and a committee that is investigating allegations of criminality at its clinics an analysis it commissioned concluding that “manipulation” of undercover videos by abortion opponents make those recordings unreliable for any official inquiry. “A thorough review of these videos in consultation with qualified experts found that they do not present a complete or accurate record of the events they purport to depict,” the analysis of a private research company said. Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, underscored that in a cover letter to the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker John A. Boehner, both Republicans, and to Senator Harry Reid and Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leaders. Shortly after the release of the analysis, the anti-abortion group responsible for the videos dismissed the attempted debunking as “a complete failure” and attributed gaps identified in the videos to “bathroom breaks and waiting periods.” The analysis was by Fusion GPS, a Washington-based research and corporate intelligence company, and its co-founder Glenn Simpson, a former investigative reporter for The Wall Street Journal.
Defection of Perry Aide to Trump Camp Has Iowans Fearing for Image
DES MOINES — Is Iowa for sale? That is the perception sending shudders through the state’s Republicans, after the leader of Rick Perry’s Iowa campaign quit when Mr. Perry suspended pay to staff members, then quickly went to work for Donald J. Trump, who he had earlier said lacked a “moral center.” The head-spinning dismount and remount came three weeks after another embarrassing episode for the state’s Republicans. A long-running scandal over under-the-table payments to a state senator to endorse Ron Paul’s presidential bid in 2011 led to the federal indictment this month of Mr. Paul’s former campaign manager. On Tuesday, at a meeting of the Polk County Republican Party in Des Moines, the two events were linked in many conversations — as they have been all week by Iowa’s political insiders, who are hypersensitive about the state’s privileged role as the first to vote in presidential races. Many non-Iowans resent the attention paid to the state, which will hold its caucuses Feb. 1. To deflect the doubters, party officials and the state’s ranks of paid strategists strive for an image of ethical professionalism and a level playing field for all candidates, which is now being questioned. “I think it sends a perception that we’re pay-for-play, and if that’s the case, we lose credibility as the first-in-the nation caucuses,” said a top Republican official in Iowa. That sentiment was echoed in more than a dozen interviews with Iowa officials and political strategists, nearly all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of offending people they would invariably work with again one day. In private emails last month, Mr. Clovis denounced Mr. Trump for shortcomings as a conservative. After Mr. Trump said Senator John McCain was “not a war hero” because he had been a prisoner in North Vietnam, Mr. Clovis, a 25-year Air Force veteran, wrote, “I was offended by a man who sought and gained four student deferments to avoid the draft and who has never served this nation a day — not a day — in any fashion or way.” After Mr. Trump said he had never sought God’s forgiveness, Mr. Clovis, an evangelical Christian, wrote, “His comments reveal no foundation in Christ, which is a big deal.” The private emails were first reported by The Des Moines Register. The New York Times obtained copies.
Congress quietly ends federal government’s ban on medical marijuana
Tucked deep inside the 1,603-page federal spending measure is a provision that effectively ends the federal government’s prohibition on medical marijuana and signals a major shift in drug policy. The bill’s passage over the weekend marks the first time Congress has approved nationally significant legislation backed by legalization advocates. It brings almost to a close two decades of tension between the states and Washington over medical use of marijuana. Under the provision, states where medical pot is legal would no longer need to worry about federal drug agents raiding retail operations. Agents would be prohibited from doing so. The Obama administration has largely followed that rule since last year as a matter of policy. But the measure approved as part of the spending bill, which President Obama plans to sign this week, will codify it as a matter of law. Pot advocates had lobbied Congress to embrace the administration’s policy, which they warned was vulnerable to revision under a less tolerant future administration. More important, from the standpoint of activists, Congress’ action marked the emergence of a new alliance in marijuana politics: Republicans are taking a prominent role in backing states’ right to allow use of a drug the federal government still officially classifies as more dangerous than cocaine. “This is a victory for so many,” said the measure’s coauthor, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa. The measure’s approval, he said, represents “the first time in decades that the federal government has curtailed its oppressive prohibition of marijuana.”
Wall St. Policy Poses a Challenge for Presidential Candidates
Even seven years after the financial crisis, Wall Street has lost none of its ability to stir partisan rancor. The Republican presidential candidates are almost entirely unified behind repealing the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul legislation approved by a Democratic-controlled Congress after the 2008 collapse, which was brought on by reckless mortgage lending. That rollback would undoubtedly allow for more unfettered trading and lending. Pushing in the opposition direction, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s two challengers for the Democratic nomination have made it a priority to bring back a Depression-era law that would force the biggest banks to break up. Mrs. Clinton has joined the chorus of Democrats demanding more oversight of Wall Street, recognizing that the issue has become a rallying cry among progressive activists and is bound up in the broader debate on income and wealth inequality. But Mrs. Clinton, who has won strong financial support from Wall Street in the past, has been piecing together a more unexpected set of policy proposals — including a change in the way capital gains, or profits on investments, are taxed. Her proposals so far strike a more moderate note than those of her fellow Democrats, but they also have a more realistic chance of becoming law if she is elected president. “The things she is talking about are very different than what the left is talking about,” said Matt McDonald, a partner at Hamilton Place Strategies who has worked on financial issues for the Republican candidates in the last two presidential elections. “The different ways that the candidates are approaching it are very interesting.” The array of views emerging from the presidential primaries suggests that the financial industry — as well as investors and consumers — could face sharply different futures depending on which party ends up in the White House.
The Air Force Tees Up a Battle of the Fighter Jets
If you’re the Pentagon, how do you choose between an aging, but dependable, fighter jet and a brand new aircraft that you’re not quite sure is up to the job? You have them fight it out, naturally. That’s essentially what the Air Force said it would do when it announced that starting in 2018, it would pit the A-10 “Warthog” against the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in a series of tests to see if the new F-35s can adequately replace the A-10s, which the military wants to retire. A 40-year-old platform, the A-10 has been described by Martin Dempsey, the joint chiefs chairman, as “the ugliest, most beautiful aircraft on the planet.” It may be old, but as a certain Irish actor would say, it has a very particular set of skills: The A-10 excels at providing what’s known as “close-air support,” flying low and slow to provide ideal cover protection for U.S. troops fighting in ground combat. That capability is prized not only by the military, but also by a pair of key Republican lawmakers who oversee its budget, Senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte. The $400 billion F-35 program has been maligned for its production delays and unprecedented expense, and while the snazzy (and stealthy) new joint strike fighters are expected to be able to do many things well once they’re fully ready around 2021, there’s concern that they won’t be able to match the A-10’s close-air support capability. McCain, who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Ayotte have been campaigning to get the Defense Department to drop its plans to retire the A-10 by 2019 to save money, in large part because of those worries. As a result, the Pentagon is setting up a “comparison evaluation” to see if the F-35 can measure up. “You can’t guess at what the capability gaps are,” J. Michael Gilmore, head of the Pentagon’s testing operation, told reporters at the Pentagon. “It’s really not wise to guess. You have to go out and get data and do a thorough and rigorous evaluation.”
Top Jeb fundraisers leave campaign amid troubling signs
Three top Jeb Bush fundraisers abruptly parted ways with his presidential campaign on Friday, amid internal personality conflicts and questions about the strength of his candidacy, POLITICO has learned. There are different versions of what transpired. The Florida-based fundraising consultants — Kris Money, Trey McCarley and Debbie Aleksander — have said that they voluntarily quit the campaign and were still working with Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise Super PAC. Others said the three, who worked under the same contract, were let go because they were no longer needed for the current phase of the campaign. None of the three responded to requests for comment. Bush spokesman Tim Miller would only say that “Governor Bush has the widest and deepest fundraising operation of any candidate in the field. Ann Herberger — a longtime aide with more than two decades of experience in state and national politics — will continue to lead the operation in Florida with our team in Miami.” The departures came at a time of uncertainty for Bush. While he has had massive success raising money for his super PAC, he is overseeing an official campaign that has many more staffers but far less money. Earlier this week, The New York Times revealed that the campaign had taken steps to rein in some of its spending and had gone so far as to cut some employee salaries. And POLITICO reported that one Bush fundraiser expressed concerns about the slowing pace of the campaign’s fundraising after Bush’s shaky debate performance. The Bush campaign wasted no time seeking a replacement for the three fundraising consultants and has reached out to Meredith O’Rourke — a top Florida Republican fundraiser who briefly worked for Chris Christie’s campaign in May but left it in July. O’Rourke, who wouldn’t comment, helped Gov. Rick Scott raise about $100 million for his 2014 reelection campaign and also works for Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who’s likely to run for governor in 2018. One source attributed the departures to personality conflicts in the campaign. Some identified Bush’s finance director, Heather Larrison, as a shouter with whom it’s difficult to work. She wouldn’t comment. Others singled out Money as a problem due to what they describe as haughtiness and a heavy-handed donate-or-else attitude with potential contributors. “They were glad to go. This wasn’t a shock to anybody,” said one campaign source. “There were just some personality problems. It happens when you have a big organization like this, a big campaign. Some of the national people are tough to work for.” Another campaign source, though, said the three fundraising consultants — who worked on contract and were not staffers — were let go because they weren’t raising enough money relative to how much they had been raising during the past financial quarter. “We appreciated their work, but we are entering a new phase of the campaign post-Labor Day, and we needed to move in a different direction,” the source said.
Iowa poll: Sanders closing on Clinton
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is rapidly closing the gap with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but she still maintains a solid lead in Iowa’s Democratic caucuses, according to a poll released Saturday. Clinton, the Democratic front-runner and establishment favorite, is drawing support from 37 percent of caucus-goers.Sanders earns 30 percent. Vice President Joe Biden, who is still wavering on making a run, earns 14 percent. This is the first time Clinton has fallen short of a majority in the Iowa poll, conducted by pollster Ann Selzer forThe Des Moines Registerand Bloomberg, this year. “This feels like 2008 all over again,” Selzer told the paper, referring to then-Sen. Barack Obama’s remarkable victory over Clinton in the caucuses then. In January, Clinton led Sanders by more than 50 percentage points,and he drew just 5 percent. Without Biden in the contest, Clinton’s support jumps to 43 percent and Sanders’ climbs to 35 percent. The three other Democrats running for the presidency—former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee—all fail to earn even5percent of the vote. Clinton remains broadly popular with Democratic regulars in the state. Seventy-seven percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers have a favorable opinion of her, and19 percent have an unfavorable opinion. Those numberswere88 percentfavorableand 10 percent unfavorable in June. Only 13 percent said they could never support her in the caucus. Sixty-one percent said controversies surrounding her use of a private email server while working assecretary ofstate were “not important.” And two-thirds are “mostly confident” Clinton would win a general election.
Planned Parenthood sues Bentley over Medicaid cancellations
Planned Parenthood Southeast filed a lawsuit against Gov. Robert Bentley Friday, saying his recent decision to to cancel Medicaid contracts with the organization violated federal law. In a statement, Planned Parenthood Southeast CEO Staci Fox said Alabama officials were “hell-bent on ending a woman’s ability to make her own deeply personal and private health decisions.” “Governor Bentley is trying to dictate where a woman can go for contraception and other preventive care if she’s enrolled in Medicaid,” the statement said. “Meanwhile, Alabama is dealing with some of the nation’s worst health outcomes, and restricting access to providers will do nothing to help the urgent problems we face.” Bentley canceled Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood on Aug. 6, after videos released by an anti-abortion group appeared to show Planned Parenthood staffers discussing the sale of fetuses and fetal parts. In a statement, the governor called the practices “deplorable.” “I respect human life and do not want Alabama to be associated with an organization that does not,” the governor said in a statement last week. Planned Parenthood says the program discussed is a long-standing fetal tissue donation program; PPSE does not participate. The organization says the videos were edited to be misleading. Fusion GPS, a private investigative firm hired by Planned Parenthood to analyze the first four videos released, said there were “substantive omissions” in the videos that would not allow them to hold up as evidence in a court of law. A message was left in Bentley’s office Friday morning. The lawsuit asks the court to block the governor’s action. Planned Parenthood sued Louisana Gov. Bobby Jindal earlier this week over the cancellation of Medicaid contracts there. The state paid Planned Parenthood $4,453 in FY 2013 and 2014, for birth control services and cancer and STD screenings. The organization provides abortion services at its clinics in Birmingham and Mobile offices, but Medicaid only pays for abortion in the case of rape or incest, or when a mother’s life is in danger. The lawsuit argues that federal law does not allow a state to cancel services with a qualified health care provider without adequate justification. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) warned the state earlier this month that the moves could violate federal law. “Longstanding Medicaid laws prohibit states from restricting individuals who have coverage through Medicaid from receiving care from a qualified provider,” a statement from HHS said. “By restricting which provider a woman could choose to receive care from, women could lose access to critical preventive care, such as cancer screenings.” The lawsuit said Bentley’s decision to cancel the contracts due to the videos was unjustified. “Defendant’s actions were taken without regard to the quality of the medical care provided by PPSE to Medicaid patients, and in direct retaliation for PPSE’s provision of abortion services and its affilation with Planned Parenthood,” the lawsuit said.
Disease, suicide killing Ala inmates faster than execution
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) – Disease and suicide are claiming inmates on Alabama’s death row faster than the executioner. With Alabama’s capital punishment mechanism on hold for more than two years because of legal challenges and a shortage of drugs for lethal injections, five of the state’s death row inmates have died without ever seeing the inside of the execution chamber. Prison officials say three inmates have died of natural causes since the state’s last execution on July 25, 2013. Two others committed suicide by hanging themselves. With 189 people currently on death row, the state is trying to resume executions. But legal challenges could be a roadblock. The state is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by death row inmate over the use of a new sedative for lethal injections.
Drummond lawsuit says EPA has violated Freedom of Information Act
Drummond Co. Inc. says in a federal lawsuit filed Friday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has violated the Freedom of Information Act by not providing documents related to the agency’s investigation of the North Birmingham superfund site where toxic chemicals have been found in the soil. “EPA has violated the Freedom of Information Act in both substance and procedure in its responses to three FOIA requests submitted by Drummond,” the company’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Birmingham, states. “For each of Drummond’s three FOIA requests, EPA continues to withhold responsive information without legal justification.” The Birmingham-based coal company seeks an order from a federal judge that says EPA violated the act, requires EPA to promptly provide it with all the records requested, and awards Drummond attorneys’ fees and costs. Drummond’s ABC Coke operation operates a manufacturing facility in Tarrant near the superfund site along 35th Avenue North in Birmingham. The site includes the North Birmingham, Fairmont, Collegeville, and Harriman Park neighborhoods, as well as portions of Five-Mile Creek. In 2013, EPA named Drummond and four other companies -U.S. Pipe, Alagasco, KMAC, and Walter Coke – as “potentially responsible parties” for contamination found in the soil of more than 400 properties in the neighborhoods. The Centers for Disease Control in a July report found levels of arsenic, lead and PAHs that “could harm people’s health,” mostly after long-term exposure, in soil samples taken near the Superfund Site. By declaring the area a superfund site EPA has the authority to investigate and clean industrial pollution. The Superfund Removal Program had cleaned up 115 properties in the neighborhood in three phases as of this summer.
ALEA to begin phasing out driver license offices; 33 to close Oct. 1
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency will begin phasing out driver licenses offices across the state on Oct. 1 if the state Legislature doesn’t level fund the agency. “Currently, ALEA maintains 75 driver license district and field offices across the state but budget allocations do not cover costs and we operate with an $8.2 million deficit,” Secretary of Law Enforcement Spencer Collier said in a press release Friday morning. “During the 2015 regular and first special sessions, the Legislature proposed General Fund budget cuts ranging from 22 percent to 47 percent cut from ALEA’s Fiscal Year 2015 appropriation. Should the Legislature pass devastating budget cuts, it will be necessary for the licensing division to close driver license district and field offices statewide.” The Legislature is expected to come back to the State House for a second special session following Labor Day. With many lawmakers still refusing to raise taxes, a solution to the General Fund budget’s $200 million deficit is unclear. Gambling appears to be off the table for the second special session.
Dianne Bentley files for divorce from Robert Bentley
Alabama first lady Dianne Bentley filed for divorce from Gov. Robert Bentley on Friday, saying there had been an “irretrievable breakdown” in their 50-year marriage. The complaint, filed in the Bentley’s home county of Tuscaloosa, says the couple has not lived together since January and that they were suffering from “a conflict of personalities which destroys the legitimate aims of matrimony.” “Further attempts at reconciliation are impractical and not in the best interest of the parties,” the filing said. A second document attached requests a deposition from Gov. Bentley on Nov. 20 in Birmingham. Dianne Bentley is seeking a division of the couple’s property, as well as alimony and attorney’s fees from the governor. Dianne Bentley is also seeking possession of the couple’s home in Tuscaloosa. She signed the complaint on Wednesday. “The Governor asks that you please respect the privacy of the Bentley family during this difficult time,” Jennifer Ardis, a spokeswoman for Bentley, said in an emailed statement Friday. “There will be no further comment.” A message left with L. Steven Wright Jr., a Birmingham attorney representing Dianne Bentley, was not returned Friday. The Bentleys have four children and eight grandchildren. They met as students at the University of Alabama and were married on July 24, 1965. Dianne Bentley told The Associated Press in 2011 she worked in labs to help Gov. Bentley, a dermatologist by training, finish medical school. Gov. Bentley served two terms in the Alabama House of Representatives before deciding to run for governor. The couple put a mortgage on their Tuscaloosa home, and Dianne Bentley helped drive her husband to different campaign events. A self-described shy person, Dianne Bentley was a low-key presence in the Capitol. However, she spoke out on children’s issues, and earlier this year urged strengthening of the state’s domestic violence laws.
Josh Moon: Ala.’s education budget doesn’t have a surplus
A few days back, on a Saturday morning, I was killing a little time by scrolling through the Twitter feed when I stumbled upon an interesting exchange. Mary Scott Hunter, a member of the state school board, and state Sens. Phil Williams and Will Ainsworth – all three Republicans – are going back and forth over a proposal that some Republicans in the Alabama Legislature are pushing. One that would steal $250 million from public education. The theory that is being used to support this lunacy is that the education trust fund has money to spare, because it has a reserve fund that actually has money in it. The reason it has money is because these same GOP lawmakers thought it was important to set up a fund that would safeguard against lean financial years. So, they implemented the rolling reserve act, which created spending caps and set up reserve accounts that required the state to save some money in case of down times and also to make school improvements. After a few decent economic years, there is money in the reserve fund. But pretending like there’s an overflow of cash in that account is misguided, because public school funding in Alabama is still down some 20 percent since 2008. Teachers have seen one raise in the last eight years. Transportation still isn’t fully funded by the state. Textbooks are still a major issue for some districts. So, when Hunter noticed a story stating that Alabama’s education trust fund budget had an excess of money and that lawmakers were pushing the idea of robbing that fund to cover the general fund’s $250 million hole, she took issue. “There is no ‘large’ excess in the two ETF budgets I know best: K-12 and community colleges,” Hunter tweeted. To which Williams replied: “No. You don’t know best. Never saw you in a budget meeting. Surplus is real and better than taxes.” Yeah, he’s sweet. Hunter brushed off the unprovoked hostility and repeated her comments, obviously believing that repeating the same words would spark some recognition that she was talking about the actual education budgets that detail the spending in state schools. That’s when Ainsworth joined the fray. “I hate to break it to you,” Ainsworth tweeted at Hunter, “(Williams) is correct in his budget analysis. Ask anyone that understands the budgets.” Because clearly, with her lady brain, there’s no way Hunter understands budgets. Sure, she has a law degree from Alabama, served a decade as a JAG in the Air Force and runs a business with her husband, but budgets? Best leave that to the state legislators who have Alabama’s in pristine condition. Later, Williams unintentionally highlighted the basic problem with Alabama’s entire economic approach, explaining to Hunter what the word “reserve” means. “The key word being ‘reserve,’ aka ‘excess,’ aka ‘surplus,’” Williams wrote. Actually, no, “reserve” is not the same as either of those. But this is Alabama politics, where changing the definition of a word and distorting reality are viable defenses for refusing to raise taxes that we all know should be raised. The reality is, as these lawmakers were claiming an education “excess,” parents were buying toilet paper and chalk for schools, kids were sharing textbooks and state schools were imposing so many fees for classes and other school-related services and options that some parents literally can’t afford this free education. A list of fees posted online by Alabama School Connection shows some schools in Alabama charging $30 or more for advanced placement courses and other electives. One school was charging $50 for parking. Lawmakers have already started dipping into the ETF budget. According to a story in the Decatur Daily, millions of dollars have come out so far to pay for the State House building upkeep and for reimbursements for mileage and hotel and restaurant checks for lawmakers in town for the August special session. That’s the August special session in which they didn’t do anything. But in a way, that’s just perfect. Because nothing sums up the state of this state better than charging public school students to park at a public school while we use education dollars to reimburse legislators for doing nothing.
Gov. Robert Bentley protector was paid big, promoted over more qualified troopers
- This story was originally posted in September of 2014
The head of Gov. Robert Bentley’s security detail made $16,918 in August, thanks to overtime he earned following the governor across the globe. At that rate Wendell Ray Lewis would pull in $203,000 a year, or about $112,000 more than his annual salary as a state trooper. It pushes his actual pay so far this fiscal year to $153,000, with a month still to go. It’s almost fifty grand more than the colonel who runs the Department of Public Safety made in the same time period. It sort of, um, flies in the face of the governor’s whole “I don’t take a salary” thing. It doesn’t mean as much to skip a paycheck when your actions allow other people to double theirs. Lewis, a trooper from Bentley’s hometown of Tuscaloosa, was removed from actual gubernatorial protection after I started asking questions about the overtime last month. He won’t be hopping planes with Bentley and churning overtime for a while, though he still runs the Dignitary Protection Unit. Spencer Collier, the head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, also ended overtime for all members of the protection detail after the Lewis payments were made public (Lewis made $580,000 in the last four years). Overtime will be halted until next year and the process reviewed, Collier said. But there is more going on here than a trooper’s overtime. There are more troubling signs. More:
M.M. goes dark next week through Sept. 8th.
10:25 am ET || Departs White House
1:40 pm AKT || Arrives Anchorage, Alaska
3:15 pm AKT || Participates in a roundtable with Alaska Natives
5:00 pm AKT || Addresses a conference on the environment in the Arctic
Congress is in recess.