Assad in Person: Confident, Friendly, No Regrets
DAMASCUS, Syria — The guns were silent atop Mount Qasioun and the lights on its slopes twinkled over Damascus as President Bashar al-Assad of Syria welcomed a group of Western visitors into his French-Ottoman palace on Monday night, presenting himself as a man firmly in control of his country. He radiated confidence and friendliness as he ushered a group of British and American journalists and policy analysts into an elegant wood-paneled sitting room where he claimed that the social fabric of Syria was stitched together “much better than before” a chaotic civil war began more than five years ago. It was as if half his citizens had not been driven from their homes and nearly half a million had not been killed in the bloody fighting for which he rejected any personal responsibility, blaming instead the United States and Islamist militants. “I’m just a headline — the bad president, the bad guy, who is killing the good guys,” Mr. Assad said. “You know this narrative. The real reason is toppling the government. This government doesn’t fit the criteria of the United States.” It was a surreal meeting for me after years of writing about a devastating and intractable war that has reduced several of Syria’s grand city centers to rubble and prompted accusations of war crimes. While hundreds of thousands of Syrians are besieged and hungry, here was Mr. Assad, secure in his palace because he has outsourced much of the war to Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah forces whose influence has grown to a degree that makes some of his own supporters uncomfortable. He was on a mission to convince the West that their governments had made a mistake in backing his opponents and that he was secure in his position as the custodian of Syrian sovereignty. Waxing philosophical, he spoke of every Syrian’s right to be “a full citizen, in every meaning of this word,” and likened intolerant versions of religion to a computer operating system that needed to be updated. He promised that a new era of openness and dialogue was underway in Syria and said that he was thinking ahead about how to modernize Syrians’ mentality after a war that he believed his forces were assured of winning. More:
Documents show Islamic State obsessions: beards and concubines
After Islamic State conquered villages in northern Iraq, it spelled out in minute detail the rules of its self-proclaimed caliphate, from beard length to alms to guidelines for taking women as sex slaves. Islamic State documents and posters, obtained in villages captured by Iraqi forces, highlight a tight and comprehensive system of rule by the militants, who went to great lengths to explain their extremist philosophy. The documents and other materials, printed with Islamic State logos, were found by Reuters in offices used by the group until a few days ago. Members of the Iraqi forces told Reuters the documents originated from Islamic State, although this could not be independently verified. Iraqi security forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters have seized several villages and towns during an offensive against the northern city of Mosul, Islamic State’s last stronghold in the country. When Islamic State swept through the north in 2014, it announced a self-proclaimed caliphate, which appealed to some fellow Sunnis who felt marginalized by the Shi’ite-led central government. But that appeal faded as Islamic State enforced its medieval thinking with brute force, beheading anyone deemed an opponent. Slick, colorful posters, pamphlets and documents highlight Islamic State’s intense focus on dictating what it called proper Islamic behavior for the citizens of its caliphate. Violations of its rules meant punishment such as public whipping or being hauled off to Mosul for execution, according to several villagers who recently escaped from Islamic State areas. A green wallet-size insert lays out guidelines for how to pray properly. It shows a young boy undertaking ablutions. “Wash your feet from the direction of your toes down to your heels,” it said. More:
How Congress can protect the U.S. from Russia
Moscow’s attempts to interfere with the presidential election is clear evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin poses a direct threat to the United States. Despite the U.S. military advantage, Russia has demonstrated the ability to use espionage, diplomacy and military force to undermine our security. While most observers believe that the challenge of countering Russia and navigating the complicated relationship with Putin will fall to the next president, the legislative branch will have a major role to play as well. The 115th Congress has an opportunity to address this threat by focusing time and resources on legislation and oversight to safeguard U.S. interests and influence abroad, demonstrating real leadership to fulfill its constitutionally mandated role in foreign policy. While Congress is not institutionally structured to manage daily crises in Syria or Ukraine, the legislative branch does have a track record of making constructive contributions to foreign policy. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, for instance, Congress led efforts to secure nuclear weapons in the newly independent countries of the former USSR, authorized economic assistance to the people of these countries, and established exchange programs to achieve dialogue between Americans and their former adversaries. During the Cold War, Congress also successfully pressed to end military interventions in Southeast Asia and Central America and provided leadership on human rights issues. Americans remember the excesses of Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis.), but Sen. Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich.) may have had more impact on history by working behind the scenes for Senate approval of forming the United Nations and NATO and funding the Marshall Plan. Putin and his government are firmly in power and are unlikely to change their attitude toward the United States any time soon. Responding to Moscow and managing this important relationship will require patience and a long-term approach. The incoming Congress should actively help the next president defend and promote U.S. interests in the face of increasingly assertive Russian diplomacy. More:
Trapped in a house with Islamic State fighters
KIRKUK, Iraq — She sent just one text to her mother: “I am trapped in a house with Islamic State fighters. Do not call me.” Off and on for eight hours, Monaly Atalla and six college roommates hid under their beds in their darkened house as a group of Islamic State fighters came and went during a pitched battle to take over this city late last month. As the students lay beneath the narrow single beds, hidden by nothing but a thin sheet, the militants sat on the mattresses above. The seven women listened to their conversations and heard them praying in other rooms. They felt their presence, the weight of their bodies atop the beds, the smell of their sweat and blood. Two gunmen who passed through the bedroom were seriously wounded by the fierce firefights just outside. One was shot in the stomach, they believed, the other in the leg. The students could hear the wounded men’s sharp labored breaths. At one point, one of the fighters shifted his body and his boot touched Atalla’s shoulder. “I thought at that the moment, this is it,” she told The Washington Post. As she recalled her story, she sat in another house filled with people displaced by the turmoil, dressed in a pair of blue yoga pants and pink flip-flops. She twisted a silver crucifix hanging from a necklace. All seven of the young women in the house, ages 20 to 23, are Christians who had fled Mosul and the nearby town of Qaraqosh more than two years ago when the Islamic State seized control of the region. More:
Investors take fright at rising chances of Trump U.S. election win
World stocks, the dollar and oil fell on Wednesday, while safe-haven assets such as gold and the Swiss franc rose as investors were rattled by signs the U.S. presidential race was tightening just days before the vote. Investors were beginning to rethink their long-held bets of a Nov. 8 victory for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton amid signs her Republican rival Donald Trump could be closing the gap, deepening the recent decline across major stock markets. Asian stocks hit a seven-week low on Wednesday, while European bourses followed Wall Street’s lead overnight and slid to a four-month low. Bonds rose alongside gold, the Swiss franc and Japanese yen, with the yield on 10-year U.S. Treasuries falling for the third day in a row. British gilts, which have recently been slammed by uncertainty surrounding the post-Brexit UK outlook, surged too. “The lead up to the U.S. presidential election was always expected to be lively but the events of the last couple of days have seriously taken their toll on investor sentiment,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda in London. Investor anxiety has deepened in recent sessions over a possible Trump victory given uncertainty on the Republican candidate’s stance on key issues including foreign policy, trade relations and immigrants, while Clinton is viewed as a candidate of the status quo. Europe’s index of leading 300 shares was last down 0.4 percent .FTEU3, having earlier hit a four-month low of 1,313 points. Britain’s Britain’s FTSE .FTSE and Germany’s DAX .GDAXI fell 0.4 and 0.7 percent, respectively. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS dropped 1.1 percent to seven-week lows while the yen’s rise to a two-week high helped push Japan’s Nikkei .N225 down 1.8 percent. U.S. stock futures ESc1 recovered earlier losses, pointing to a fall of only 0.1 percent at the open. This would still signify a fresh four-month low for Wall Street.
Trump’s Foreign Business Entanglements Would Create Unparalleled Conflicts
Donald Trump’s adult children have spent a decade doing business with politically connected foreign firms—a role that will present potential conflicts of interest whether he wins on Nov. 8 or continues to pursue politics if he loses. Those whom Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump have worked with abroad include: the family of a developer in India who is a ruling-party politician, an Azerbaijani government minister’s son and a media company that became the Turkish president’s outlet of choice during the July 15 coup attempt. No recent president has had a portfolio of international business interests as extensive as Mr. Trump’s—or as great a level of business engagement on his behalf by offspring, who have also played a role in his campaign. U.S. law exempts the president and vice president from conflict-of-interest rules that require many federal employees to recuse themselves from decisions involving their financial interests. Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan voluntarily put most assets in blind trusts. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that, if elected, he would have created a federally qualifying blind trust. A President Trump “would not be involved in the business,” said Trump Organization general counsel Alan Garten. “His focus obviously would be on the office of the presidency, and Don, Ivanka and Eric would run the company.” Mr. Trump’s campaign referred questions to Mr. Garten. The three Trump children didn’t respond to requests for comment sent through the campaign and the company.
Can Banks Make Wall Street Sexy Again for Millennials?
Ask a bright 20-something graduate where he or she wants to work and chances are they will tell you Google. That’s a far cry from before the global banking meltdown when whiz kids saw a career on Wall Street as a badge of honor. At a time when student debt is at at a record, the banking community is exploring the idea of helping you pay off those pesky college loans as a way to attract top talent again. Starting next month, the American Bankers Association will contribute $1,200 toward student loans, with a cap of $10,000. Almost a third of its 345 employees are indebted from their college days. “We’re going to encourage all of our members to consider offering this benefit as well, to make banks across the country be a coveted employers for millennials in their specific community,” said Rob Nichols, ABA president and CEO. The Washington-based bank lobbyist isn’t the first to look at this. The U.S. military covers tuition costs for active duty and some reserve members. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP last year unveiled a program similar to that of the ABA. Still, only about 4 percent of companies in the U.S. offer to chip in. Millennials may be the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, but the financial crisis has tarnished the image of banks in their eyes. But with 75 million of millennials saddled with college debt – the average loan is about $30,000 – banks are appealing directly to their wallets. That may not be enough. Many young graduates are rejecting the decades-old formula of working long hours in entry-level banking jobs, hoping for a shot at making millions later. Some employers in the industry have banned work past midnight or on Saturdays, but still can’t match some of the more lavish job perks at tech companies. Take Netflix, which last year announced unlimited time off for parents during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.
How the Skimm Became a Must-Read for Millennials
On the morning of Oct. 20, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and pretty much every other major U.S. publication led with the previous night’s big story: the final presidential debate in Las Vegas. At the Skimm, which sends a newsletter called Daily Skimm to the in-boxes of more than 4 million young professionals each morning, the debate was the main event, too. But the tenor of the Skimm’s coverage was, uh, less formal: “Trump and Hillz had a night out in Vegas,” the summary began. In Skimm parlance, “Hillz” is Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump doesn’t get a nickname, though during the 2012 election Mitt Romney was known as Mittens. Given the Skimm’s chatty tone—and that the Oct. 20 edition also featured a story about a chain-smoking chimp—its take on the debate was surprisingly sober. It didn’t declare either candidate a winner, and their arguments were summarized faithfully. Trump and Hillz, the Skimm wrote, “brought their A-game.” Special praise was reserved only for moderator Chris Wallace, who handled the candidates “like a boss.”
Wells Fargo to Pay $50 Million to Settle Home Appraisal Overcharges
In the latest hit to the battered bank, Wells Fargo has agreed to pay $50 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that accused the bank of overcharging hundreds of thousands of homeowners for appraisals ordered after the homeowners defaulted on their mortgage loans. The proposed settlement calls for Wells Fargo to automatically mail checks to more than 250,000 customers nationwide whose home loans were serviced by the bank between 2005 and 2010. The checks will typically be for $120, according to Roland Tellis, a lawyer with Baron & Budd, the law firm that represented Wells Fargo’s customers. If a judge signs off on the settlement, as expected, the checks will be distributed next year. When a borrower falls behind on a loan, mortgage contracts typically let the lender order an appraisal of the home’s current value. The cost of that appraisal, known as a “broker price opinion,” can be passed on to the borrower, but Wells Fargo used one of its own subsidiaries to conduct appraisals and then routinely marked up the cost, according to the lawsuit. Borrowers would be charged $95 to $120 for a service that cost the bank $50 or less, the complaint said. The charges were then listed cryptically on mortgage statements, with vague descriptions like “other charges” or “other fees.” “People who are behind on their loans are the people who can least afford to be charged marked-up fees, but unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened,” Mr. Tellis said.
When Hillary and Donald Were Friends
The sensational, spidery plot of the most gripping game of thrones in modern history is best captured by two images. The first is from Donald J. Trump’s extravagant third wedding at his Mar-a-Lago estate in 2005: The junior senator from New York, glowing in gold silk and pearls, smiles up at the mogul in white tie with genuine delight as he says something that cracks up Hillary, Bill and Trump’s bejeweled bride, Melania. Donald and Hillary look “just like teenagers in love” in the flashbulb moment, as David Patrick Columbia, the editor of the website New York Social Diary, notes dryly. The second, more sinister image is from the St. Louis presidential debate last month: A Tang-colored Trump looms behind Hillary like a horror-movie fiend as she makes a point, while three of Trump’s guests in the front row, women who accused Bill of sexual assault, give her the stink eye and Chelsea and Bill sit nearby looking grim. What a difference a decade makes: from a Babylonian celebration, with Hillary and Bill cozying up to Donald, to a seething face-off, with Donald summoning ghosts from Bill’s scandalous past and threatening to throw Hillary in the clink if he’s elected. We are in the final days of the first presidential contest between two New Yorkers in 72 years, since Thomas Dewey ran against Franklin D. Roosevelt: The 42-year-old Republican governor of New York used a Trump-style attack on the 62-year-old Democratic president, calling him “a tired old man.” On election night, the party and the wake will both be held in Manhattan. Hillary will hold hers at the Javits Convention Center, with its literal glass ceiling and, as The Times’s campaign reporter Maggie Haberman noted, an air of trolling: Back in the late 1970s, Trump wanted to build the center and slap the Trump name on it, but the city refused. More:
White nationalists plot Election Day show of force
Neo-Nazi leader Andrew Anglin plans to muster thousands of poll-watchers across all 50 states. His partners at the alt-right website “the Right Stuff” are touting plans to set up hidden cameras at polling places in Philadelphia and hand out liquor and marijuana in the city’s “ghetto” on Election Day to induce residents to stay home. The National Socialist Movement, various factions of the Ku Klux Klan and the white nationalist American Freedom Party all are deploying members to watch polls, either “informally” or, they say, through the Trump campaign. The Oath Keepers, a group of former law enforcement and military members that often shows up in public heavily armed, is advising members to go undercover and conduct “intelligence-gathering” at polling places, and Donald Trump ally Roger Stone is organizing his own exit polling, aiming to monitor thousands of precincts across the country. Energized by Trump’s candidacy and alarmed by his warnings of a “rigged election,” white nationalist, alt-right and militia movement groups are planning to come out in full force on Tuesday, creating the potential for conflict at the close of an already turbulent campaign season. “The possibility of violence on or around Election Day is very real,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Donald Trump has been telling his supporters for weeks and weeks and weeks now that they are about to have the election stolen from them by evil forces on behalf of the elites.” It is difficult to know at what scale these plans will materialize because Anglin and his fringe-right ilk are serial exaggerators, according to Potok. And rather than successfully uncover widespread voter fraud — for which there is a lack of compelling evidence — or successfully suppress minority turnout, Potok said the efforts are most likely to backfire.
Also see: U.S. militia girds for trouble as presidential election nears
Down a Georgia country road, camouflaged members of the Three Percent Security Force have mobilized for rifle practice, hand-to-hand combat training — and an impromptu campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. “How many people are voting for Trump? Ooh-rah!” asks Chris Hill, a paralegal who goes by the code name “Bloodagent.” “Ooh-rah!” shout a dozen militia members in response, as morning sunlight sifted through the trees last weekend. As the most divisive presidential election in recent memory nears its conclusion, some armed militia groups are preparing for the possibility of a stolen election on Nov. 8 and civil unrest in the days following a victory by Democrat Hillary Clinton. They say they won’t fire the first shot, but they’re not planning to leave their guns at home, either.
GOP Told by Judge to Turn Over Trump Poll-Watching Deals
A New Jersey federal judge ordered the Republican National Committee to turn over to Democratic leaders any evidence of written or verbal agreements between the GOP and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign regarding voter fraud, ballot security, poll watching and poll monitoring. The organization has until Wednesday to comply with the order, U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez said in a ruling on Monday. The judge denied the DNC’s requests for other information, including communications relating to a statement by Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway that the Trump Campaign is “actively working with the national committee, the official party, and campaign lawyers to monitor precincts around the country.” The DNC’s request for evidence relating to a similar statement by Trump’s running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, was also denied. Pence had said in public comments that the campaign and the RNC “are working very closely” with state governments to “ensure ballot integrity.” The Democratic National Committee has accused Republican Party leaders of conspiring with Trump’s presidential campaign to suppress minority-voter turnout. A hearing over the allegations is scheduled for Nov. 4. in Newark, New Jersey, federal court. Vazquez earlier rejected the DNC’s request for a temporary restraining order against the Republican National Committee but said he would make a final ruling after the hearing before the election. Democrats claim the RNC is violating earlier court orders in a New Jersey case first filed in 1981. The GOP denies those claims. The case is Democratic National Committee v. Republican National Committee, 81-cv-03876, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).
FBI Surprises With Files on Clinton ’01 Pardon of Marc Rich
The FBI unexpectedly released 129 pages of documents related to an investigation closed without charges in 2005 into President Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, who had been married to a wealthy Democratic donor. The file was posted online Monday but received little attention until the FBI noted it in a tweet on Tuesday afternoon. It comes as Director James Comey faces fire from Democrats and even some Republicans for releasing information about his renewed investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of e-mail. The unusual timing of the release was the result of a Freedom of Information Act request that had been completed and was posted under standard FBI practice, according to a law enforcement official who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters. But the Clinton campaign immediately questioned the timing of the release. “Absent a FOIA litigation deadline, this is odd,” Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said on Twitter. The investigation stemmed from one of several pardons Clinton made on the last day of his presidency in 2001, that of financier and international fugitive Marc Rich, whose ex-wife Denise had given to the Democratic National Committee and the entity that would later become the Clinton Foundation. More:
Debunked: Widely Shared Video Showing Ballot Box Stuffing is a Hoax
For weeks now, Donald Trump has been telling his supporters that next week’s US presidential election will be “rigged” against him. His claims have even gone so far as to inspire one woman in Iowa to be arrested on felony charges for voting twice in the fear that her first vote would be “changed to Hillary”, according to Iowa Public Radio. The clamour for greater oversight into the election process and any evidence of misconduct is growing. On October 12, a YouTube user called “Tea Partier” posted a video titled “Democrats Busted On Camera Stuffing Ballot Boxes”. The full video features four soundless, separate clips, each showing people ramming paper into election boxes as the name of a US state is super-imposed on the footage. Two of the videos take place in halls decorated in red, white and blue. The others are clearly identifiable as voting stations. The only problem? They are all from Russia. “Tea Partier” regularly posts political news videos relating to the US election, social issues and world events, but doesn’t appear to have any official ties to the Tea Party movement. However, by taking screenshots from key moments in each of the clips and uploading them to Yandex images and Google images, we can track down the original versions of each of the featured clips. The earliest version of this clip we could find was uploaded to YouTube in May 2012, allegedly showing evidence of fraud at the Russian presidential elections in March 2012. The clip was also used to allege voter fraud during the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. But evidence of “Democrats Stuffing ballot boxes”, it is not. The second clip, marked in the “Democrats” video as “Pennsylvania”, has a clear timestamp in the top-left hand corner showing the date as “18.09.16”, the date of this year’s Russian presidential election. The clip itself was featured in reporting by The Independent, among others, of alleged voter fraud during the Russian elections. More:
How a Historic Year For Women Became Women’s Worst Nightmare
Hillary Clinton and her aides were mid-flight between New York and Iowa on Friday afternoon when the news broke that F.B.I. director James Comey had sent his now infamous letter to Congress. The agency, he disclosed, had found additional e-mails potentially related to its probe into Clinton’s private server—an investigation that it had ostensibly completed this summer. Soon afterwards, a leak confirmed that the new e-mails were derived from a laptop belonging to Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Clinton’s longtime aide Huma Abedin. (Weiner, a former congressman, mayoral hopeful and indefatigable Twitter pervert, is being investigated by the F.B.I. for allegedly swapping explicit texts with a 15-year-old girl.) During an election befallen with incessant intrigue and a whole lot of puzzling, head-scratching moments, the Clinton team responded to the crisis with a bit of cool misdirection. Upon landing in Cedar Rapids, the Democratic candidate opted to proceed with prepared remarks that pivoted the focus off of the scandal and on to the well-known foibles of her opponent. “This is a man who relished making women feel terrible about themselves, in every possible way,” she said, referring her toDonald Trump. “Someone who thinks belittling and objectifying women make him a bigger man. He goes after dignity and self worth of women and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like.” On one level, Clinton’s tactic was fair game. Trump, after all, has a tendency to behave like a pig. Days after The Washington Post published a tape of Trump engaging in revolting misogynistic conversation with Billy Bush, the candidate pre-empted the presidential debate by amassing a number of women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct. His rallies regularly feature protesters proudly carrying signs, bearing T-shirts, and sporting buttons calling the former First Lady, senator, and secretary of state a “bitch,” a “tramp,” and a “whore.” But Trump’s misogyny, no matter how despicable, had nothing to do with the journey of an electronic exchange between a married couple, one half of which works for her. The fact that Clinton focused on Trump’s treatment of women, however, does underscore one of the more chilling realities of this interminable presidential cycle. This election, held nearly a century after the passage of the 19th Amendment, which provided women with the right to vote, was supposed to be a turning point and celebration of, if not politics, then the political process. Instead, it’s become one of the nastiest, most gendered bloodbaths in recent political memory. Rather than focusing on the first female major-party candidate (Clinton), or the first female campaign chief (Kellyanne Conway), or even the fact that both candidates seem to receive their most valued advice from their thirtysomething daughters, the race seems to have chewed out and victimized a disproportionate number of female principals of which Abedin, who recently separated from her sexting husband, is simply the latest. More:
33 Things This Election Will Decide That Have Nothing to Do With Trump or Clinton
This year in particular, it’s easy to get swept away in the breathless coverage of the presidential race—Did you hear what Trump said? Is pneumonia going to cost Clinton the race? Miss Finland? More emails? Really? If that’s all you’ve been paying attention to, 2016 could be one of the most surprising elections of your life. After November 8, medical marijuana could be legal in a majority of the country. America could elect its first openly bisexual governor. The food-stamp program could be dismantled. A tax on carbon could get enacted—without much support from environmentalists. Washington, D.C., could be one step closer to statehood. House Republicans could see their black membership completely wiped out. For all the oxygen sucked up by the presidential race, it’s often these less-prominent elections that have the most immediate and lasting impact on American lives. Sometimes, they can spur national trends—like Hawai‘i’s first-in-the-nation initiative banning same-sex marriage—or inspire a backlash that remakes American politics—as happened with California’s hard-line anti-immigration Prop 187. Other times, they can aid in the snowballing of a movement, creating enough momentum behind a reform that it’s adopted nationally (as seems to be happening with marijuana amid an avalanche of state and local legalization efforts). Here is a peek at some of the many issues at stake his election — ones that have nothing to do with Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, but which have the potential to reshape America in the years to come. See the 33 issues:
State of emergency declared for Alabama after Colonial pipeline incident
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley on Tuesday declared a state of emergency for the state due to an explosion and fire involving Colonial Pipeline Co [COLPI.UL] in Shelby County on Monday. “The State of Emergency is effective November 1, 2016 through December 1, 2016 unless sooner terminated,” according to a statement from the governor’s office. The declaration will facilitate a waiver from the U.S. Department of Transportation – Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, needed to lift a federal government limitation on the hours a driver can transport gasoline, the statement added.
Suit Claims Alabama Pays Higher Insurance Rates Due to “Anticompetitive Conduct” by BCBS
MONTGOMERY—A federal class-action/anti-trust suit against Blue Cross BlueShield of Alabama and 37 others is being heard in Birmingham. The suit alleges that “The Individual Blue Plans’ anticompetitive conduct has also resulted in higher premiums for their enrollees for over a decade,” and this has led to, “inflated premiums (that) would not be possible if the market for health insurance in these Individual Blue Plans’ Service Areas were truly competitive.” Subscribers’ attorneys say this has resulted in the people of Alabama paying higher rates for health insurance. Co-lead attorney Michael Hausfeld, in a phone interview with the Alabama Political Reporter said, “Restrictions by the Blues to prevent certain competition from coming into Alabama and offering more coverage or better coverage at a lower cost,” has been responsible for subscribers paying more for policies. At issue, according to Hausfeld, is whether the insurance subscriber’s rates were higher in Alabama than they should have been because of competitive restrictions. “They are charging rates in Alabama, according to our complaint, higher than subscribers would be able to achieve if there were greater competition,” said Hausfeld. According to Hausfeld, because of agreements between BCBS of Alabama and other Blues, an individual cannot cross state lines to purchase insurance from another Blue that offers the same coverage at lower rates. In Alabama, BCBSAL holds approximately a 90 percent markets share in health care insurance. The lawsuit claims that “38 Blue Cross Blue Shields along with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) entered into agreements to not to compete with one another in their respective territories in violation of federal and state laws.” BCBSAL is currently seeking a 36 percent average rate increase on individual plans offered through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) market place, and a 26 to 41 percent hike on other plans for those who do not qualify for ACA. Humana and UnitedHealthcare are exiting Alabama’s ACA marketplace, leaving BCBS of Alabama as the sole provider. More:
Amusement park ‘more upscale than Six Flags’ set for Alabama coast
Whenever Foley Mayor John Koniar gets a question about what the Poarch Band of Creek Indians plans for the city, the issue typically comes back to gambling. “Some people would like to see it there,” said Koniar, referencing the tribe’s past economic development projects which are heavily invested in casino and bingo halls in Alabama and Louisiana. “The answer is that while it’s their land, it’s not federal Indian land, so gaming is not allowed.” The follow-up he provides: “We wanted a family-friendly development and that is what they will do. It’s unlike anything in our region. It’s a destination.” That destination, at the Foley Beach Express and Baldwin County 20, about nine miles from the Gulf of Mexico, is expected to feature a roller coaster and about 20 other rides. That will make it the biggest amusement park in Alabama. There will also be shops and other attractions, Koniar said. The roller coaster, the mayor added, could be among the largest in the Southeast. The amusement park is expected to augment the sports tourism arm of the overall development. Sixteen new soccer fields recently opened and a $15 million indoor event center is under construction.
Donald Trump Voters, Just Hear Me Out
I understand why many Trump supporters have lost faith in Washington and want to just “shake things up.” When you shake things up with a studied plan and a clear idea of where you want to get to, you can open new futures. But when you shake things up, guided by one-liners and no moral compass, you can cause enormous instability and systemic vertigo. More:
Alabama’s Controversial Chief Justice Loses His Job — Again
On Sept. 28, members of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary, a body that provides oversight of judges in the state, met for some unusual proceedings: The state’s chief justice, Roy S. Moore, was on trial – for the second time. The nine members of the court spent a day hearing evidence. They had 10 days to issue a decision, but apparently this wasn’t a hard case. Two days later, the court issued a unanimous verdict: Moore was found guilty of six counts and suspended from the Alabama high court, without pay, for the remainder of his term. He was also ordered to reimburse the state for the cost of the trial.
Technically Moore was not removed from office, but the decision has the same effect. Moore, 69, is suspended for the rest of his term, which would have expired in 2018, and he can’t run again because Alabama law prohibits anyone older than 70 from being appointed to or elected to the bench. As Americans United was quick to point out, Moore has no one but himself to blame for his predicament. His problems stemmed from his rigid theocratic views and his insistence that Alabama is somehow not required to follow federal court decisions. It’s an old argument for Moore. In 2001, Americans United, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and the Southern Poverty Law Center sued Moore after he erected a two-ton Ten Commandments monument at the Judicial Building in Montgomery. A federal appeals court ordered that the religious structure be removed. Moore refused, openly defying the court. He was tried before the Court of the Judiciary and kicked off the Alabama high court. But that wasn’t the end of Moore. Supreme Court justices in Alabama are elected, and in 2012, Moore sought and won his old job back. It didn’t take him long to get into trouble again. As federal courts began upholding marriage equality, Moore grew uneasy. When the issue came to the Yellowhammer State, he threw a kind of judicial fit. The court case that legalized marriage equality in Alabama didn’t even play out in Moore’s courtroom. It took place in a federal court. U.S. District Judge Callie V. Granade struck down Alabama’s ban on marriage between same-sex couples in January of 2015, in a case brought by Americans United and allied groups. The fact that the case wasn’t in his courtroom didn’t stop Moore from jumping into the legal fray. He looked for a way to interject himself into it and wrote to Gov. Robert Bentley (R), urging him to continue to enforce the state’s ban on marriage equality. In the letter, Moore questioned the ability of federal courts to strike down Alabama laws. Things really escalated in June of 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Obergefell v. Hodges, a 5-4 decision holding that same-sex couples have a right to marry under the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. The ruling had the effect of invalidating bans on marriage for same-sex couples nationwide, but Moore was not ready to give up. Moore waited a few months and then struck. In January of 2016, he acted unilaterally and issued a bizarre “administrative order” advising all probate judges in Alabama that the ban on marriage for same-sex couples in the state remained in place. In Alabama, probate judges are local officials with a variety of duties. Among them is issuing licenses for couples who want to marry. Despite the use of the term “judge” in the title, not all probate judges have a legal background – and some were confused by Moore’s order. Americans United moved quickly to clear up the matter, filing a motion with Granade requesting that she make it clear that probate judges in Alabama must follow the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell. Granade did so. Most probate judges in the state are now issuing licenses to same-sex couples, although a few have stopped issuing licenses to all couples – opposite-sex and same-sex – rather than comply. Moore’s stunt led several groups and individuals in Alabama to file formal complaints against him before the Judicial Inquiry Commission. That group investigated the matter, decided there were grounds for a hearing and referred Moore’s case to the Court of the Judiciary. Moore’s attorney, Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, a Religious Right legal organization, tried to stop the trial by filing a lawsuit in federal court challenging the right of the oversight bodies to investigate Moore. When that tactic failed, Moore and Staver had no choice but to attend the trial and put forth an argument. It was not very persuasive. The Court of the Judiciary issued a 50-page ruling against Moore and ordered him suspended from the court. The court didn’t mince words. It ruled that Moore’s brazen administrative order represented “a failure to follow clear law and a failure to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary.” The Court of the Judiciary found that Moore interpreted the law in a manner that was “incomplete, misleading and manipulative.” The court also said Moore “substituted his judgment for the judgment of the entire Alabama Supreme Court on a substantive legal issue….” For Americans United, this was all very familiar. AU has been tangling with Moore since 1997 when, as a local judge in Etowah County, Moore attempted to nullify a federal court ruling in an Americans United case barring officially sanctioned prayer and other religious activities in local public schools. At the time, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn called Moore’s ruling, which he had no legal right to issue, “flat-earth jurisprudence.” More:
Alabamians want more transparency from health insurers
It wouldn’t be an Alabama election season without yet another opinion poll, only this one will still matter long after November 8th. That’s why we should start paying attention today. According to a recently released national and statewide survey from the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD), 45 percent of Alabama residents have seen their health care costs increase. Isn’t that somewhat more than we were promised? The news gets worse. Almost one-third say coverage for them is not only getting more expensive, it’s actually getting worse. Add to the fact, nationally, 77 percent of Americans polled offered that they or someone they know had difficulty using their health insurance just in the past year.
Could it be any clearer that patients aren’t getting what they’re looking for from the institutions that claim to serve them? This is what is known as a national emergency. While many are focused on drug prices (which certainly need to be dealt with), there is an even more serious crisis at hand: the denial of essential medications prescribed by doctors to their patients. Though it seems unbelievable, it is nonetheless true – a doctor can prescribe a treatment he or she deems necessary or even vital, a patient can agree and a pharmacy benefit manager can overrule them both. Insurers are operating under the belief that it is acceptable to allow a patient to fail first or become sicker on a lower cost medication before agreeing to provide drugs their doctors had originally prescribed. Everyone knows someone in need of daily medication for an ailment or disease. The expenses can be high. But what economic theory justifies the denial of life-saving cures because one medication may cost more than another? The survey revealed that an alarming 20 percent of Alabamians say the treatment their doctor recommended wasn’t covered by insurance while 22 percent say the treatment of someone they know had the same problem. An eye-opening 88 percent of Alabamians declared as very or somewhat important the need for transparency regarding how and why health plans are deciding to deny coverage of doctor-prescribed treatments.
Even more challenging, patients often accept their insurer’s judgment and don’t pursue administrative appeals. Don’t be surprised: people fighting for their lives don’t often look to open up another front in another war. The rejection of medically necessary drugs combined with higher health care costs is a truly deadly mix for patients. Denying vital medications could result in serious consequences; who is responsible when this occurs? Doctors are required to take an oath to do no harm; should insurers be asked to do the same? Fundamentally, this isn’t just the patient’s fight, or only their doctor’s cause. The advocacy community must lend its voice of concern to this obvious policy problem, insist on comprehensive reform and bring an end to what is obviously health care’s secret scandal. And lawmakers must listen. Given this depressing data, it really isn’t a big surprise that Alabamians believe their insurers are failing them. According to the PFCD poll, Alabamians say that the top health care priorities for politicians and government officials should be managing premium increases, lowering co-pays and deductibles and holding insurance companies accountable. It’s time to put patients first and make health care, medicines and treatment easy and accessible. There is no humane reason health insurers should be inhibiting the decisions of our doctors and there is no excuse for denying vital medications while patients become sicker and their lives remain very literally in the balance. How did the most vital medical decisions in your life go from the expert in the white coat to the bureaucrat in the grey flannel suit? As the survey shows, it’s a question an awful lot of Alabamians are asking as well.
Climate change? Alabamians in Congress bet on doing nothing
Three words for Alabama’s Congressional Delegation. Are. You. Sure? Are you willing to bet the future of your kids and mine? Are you sure enough to risk the planet on the word of a few status quo-backed scientists? Are you willing to go down in history – if there is to be such a thing — as leaders who had power to save so much, but instead turned away? Turned away, as the story will be told, to count pieces of silver from energy interests? Are you sure? A group that monitors the politics of climate change – the Center for American Progress Action Fund – this year created a list of 182 “climate change deniers” in Congress. Alabama Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby were on the list. So were Reps. Robert Aderholt, Mo Brooks and Gary Palmer. That’s 55 percent of the state’s delegation. I wanted to know what they really thought, so I asked the whole delegation to explain their positions on climate change. Only the named “deniers” got back to me. Only Brooks got back in person. Brooks said he does not deny that climate changes, because earth has always changed. He said there are many factors, and humans are one. But he questions past data, argues that public opinion is tainted by faulty “climate scares,” and recommends more study because action must be balanced against cost. Does he worry that he could be – dare I say it — wrong? “I worry about a lot of public policy issues,” he said. “The climate change issue is on the list. But it’s a long list.” Aderholt’s office referred me to an op-ed the congressman wrote for the Jasper Daily Mountain Eagle – a newspaper in coal country – way back in 2010. “I fall into the second group of people who believe, as do many very credible scientists, that the earth is currently in a natural warming cycle rather than a man-made climate change,” he wrote. Denier. Congressman Gary Palmer’s office issued this statement: “I am a firm believer in sound science. There have been new findings that clearly show the science is not settled on climate change.” Equivocator. Shelby’s office said “the Senator’s position is that any action on this topic must follow a robust economic analysis and have the consent of Congress to ensure the appropriate balance between protecting our environment and the effects on our economy.” I don’t even know. And Sessions’ office referred me to his statements in the Congressional Record from 2015, which questioned models used by “global climate change advocates.”
The models “predict not only increasing temperatures but increasing droughts, increasing flux – droughts and flux – increasing severe weather events such as hurricanes and tornadoes,” Sessions said then. “These models have long predicted this. … A critical measure of the validity of any model is how well it compares to actual data. So the actual weather data, I tell my colleagues, is proving that the models have not been accurate.” More:
FED PREVIEW: NO ACTION AHEAD — The Fed would like us to believe this is a “live” meeting. But somewhat unlike the FBI, the central bank is not in the business of tossing live bombs into the final week of a presidential election. Pantheon’s Ian Shepherdson: “The Fed won’t raise rates today, or substantively change the wording of the post-meeting statement. …
“[I]f, as we expect, the committee is looking for reasons not to hike just six days before the election, they will be able to point to the one-tenth increase in September unemployment and the uncertain reliability … of the better-looking third quarter GDP data. We anticipate three hawkish dissents again, but the Committee is setting itself up to hike in December”
HFE’s Jim O’Sullivan: “We see virtually no chance of a rate hike this week, particularly given the proximity to next week’s election. As a result, the focus will be entirely on any hints in the statement about what might happen at the next meeting, on December 13-14. We don’t expect anything very market-moving.”
MOODY’S MODEL PICKS CLINTON — Reuters: “Low gas prices and President Barack Obama’s high approval ratings are key factors that favor Democrat Hillary Clinton winning the White House in next week’s election, according to a model from Moody’s Analytics that has accurately predicted the last nine U.S. presidential contests. Clinton is forecast to pick up 332 Electoral College votes against 206 for Republican Donald Trump, Moody’s Analytics predicted … That would match Obama’s margin … in 2012.
“The Reuters-Ipsos States of the Nation project also predicts a Clinton win, with a 95 percent probability of her winning at least 278 electoral votes. A candidate needs to win at least 270 electoral votes to be elected president. The Moody’s Analytics model is based on a combination of state-level economic conditions and political history, and has correctly called the outcome of each presidential election since Republican Ronald Reagan unseated Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1980.” Read more.
LONDON BANKERS SAY CITY WILL RETAIN TITLE — In a poll out Wednesday from Synechron and the TABB Group: “72 percent of British bankers believe London will still be the financial centre of Europe in five years’ time … 55 percent of British banks have set up ‘Brexit Steering Committees’ to prepare for life outside the European Union … 56 percent of senior British capital markets executives believe that compliance costs will increase following Britain’s decision to leave the European Union … 78 percent of executives agree that Brexit will have a negative impact on UK financial markets”
ALTMAN ON HRC AND TAX REFORM — Via Yahoo Finance: “Investment banker Roger Altman, a key Clinton adviser, explained Clinton’s view on corporate tax reform during a live Yahoo Finance panel discussion on the two presidential candidates’ economic policies. ‘We need corporate tax reform,” he said. ‘The campaign isn’t the place to negotiate the rate. Let’s wait until the election is over. At some appropriate point, she’s going to make a proposal.’
“In other words: It’s coming. It’s just not something Clinton wants to discuss during the campaign, when any plan to cut business taxes could be taken as a sop to corporate interests.” Read more.
MAYBE 2016 DOESN’T EVEN MATTER — KBRA’s Christopher Whalen: “[W]e expect most of the major trends in terms of the global economy, interest rates, and currencies to be largely unaffected by the outcome of the U.S. poll. Simply stated, what happens within the U.S. political system has less and less impact on the rest of the world.
“Americans like to flatter themselves that events inside our increasingly raucous political economy are somehow more important than developments in other parts of the world … Regardless of who occupies the White House, we believe that this tendency towards greater volatility and unpredictability in global markets will remain a central theme in the years ahead. The slow motion disintegration of the EU illustrates this danger”
TRUMP RISE RATTLES MARKETS — Reuters: “Asian shares tumbled to seven-week lows and the dollar was on the defensive on Wednesday as investors were rattled by signs the U.S. presidential election race was tightening just days out to the Nov. 8 vote. Markets were beginning to rethink their long-held bets of a victory for … Hillary Clinton amid signs … Donald Trump could be closing the gap, forcing money out of riskier assets and into safe-havens such as the Japanese yen and gold.
“Heavy selling also knocked the Mexican peso, seen as the most vulnerable to a Trump presidency due to his pledge to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico to prevent entry of illegal immigrants. The peso, which posted its biggest fall in two months on Tuesday, extended losses to 19.308 to the dollar, its lowest level since early October.” Read more.
FEAR GAUGE BACK TO BREXIT LEVELS — FT’s Nicole Bullock, Adam Samson and Courtney Weaver: “The Vix index, a measure of expected US stock market volatility known as Wall Street’s ‘fear gauge’, neared highs last seen in the aftermath of the UK’s vote to leave the EU this summer. Gold, seen as the ultimate haven investment, rose to its highest level since early October …
“‘With the Brexit trading experience in recent memory, it seems that some traders don’t want to be caught off side again and have started to act,’ said Colin Cieszynski, chief market strategist at CMC Markets. Investors see Mrs Clinton as heralding less uncertainty for markets partly because her long political career means her policies are seen as more predictable.” Read more.
SWEET FALL CLASSIC TREAT — Chicago’s 9-3 win over Cleveland gives us all the gift of a World Series Game 7 Wednesday night. Read more.
DRIVING THE DAY — Clinton campaigns in Tempe, Ariz. and Las Vegas … Trump campaigns in Miami, Orlando and Pensacola, Florida … Elizabeth Warren campaigns for Clinton Carson City and Reno, Nevada … President Obama campaigns for Clinton in Chapel Hill, North Carolina … Berne Sanders campaigns in Kalamazoo and Traverse City, Michigan and Milwaukee, Wisc. … FOMC announcement at 2:00 p.m. expected to include no change in rates or outlook … ADP employment at 8:15 a.m. expected to show a gain of 165K.
GLASS-STEAGALL THOUGHTS — Capital Alpha’s Ian Katz: “The emails released by Wikileaks support our thinking that Clinton won’t always be aligned with the bank-vilifying wing of the Democratic Party. … Clinton will likely govern from the center more than most expect. The emails confirm that Clinton’s advisers don’t believe that banks are the chief culprits for the financial crisis. As a result, she would initially resist calls to break up the large firms.
“Having said that, the emails also show that the Clinton crew is profoundly pragmatic. We think that if it ever got to the point where there was enough public and congressional support to revive Glass-Steagall, Clinton wouldn’t put up a big fight. The main concern in the emails is how Clinton’s opposition to a new Glass-Steagall would be portrayed to the public and specifically in a Democratic primary debate”
CLINTON/TRUMP LIKE TO SLEEP AT HOME — POLITICO’s Shane Goldmacher and Annie Karni: “In a campaign of unprecedented contrasts, it is one of the most striking similarities between Clinton and Donald Trump. Here are two well-to-do New Yorkers who add hours of travel to their schedules, and thousands of dollars to their campaign expenses, in order to avoid sleeping in the Middle America they promise they are running to represent.
“ … [F]or Trump, near-nightly returns to Manhattan — from as far west as Reno, Nevada — mean a chance to sleep in his marble-and-gold hued 66th floor penthouse in Trump Tower. For Clinton, the hops to Chappaqua allow her to spread out in her colonial five-bedroom home, complete with 1.1 acres of land and a swimming pool.” Read more.
TRUMP’S RIO WOES — Reuters’ Anthony Boadle and Stephen Eisenhammer: “A Brazilian prosecutor has opened a criminal investigation into investments made by two state pension funds in a luxury Rio de Janeiro hotel that is part of the Trump franchise, according to a court filing reviewed by Reuters on Tuesday.
“The 130 million reais ($40 million) investment by the two small funds in the hotel’s developer ‘required investigation’ due to its size, structure and high level of risk, Anselmo Lopes, a federal prosecutor in Brasilia, said in the document dated Oct. 21 that opened the inquiry.” Read more.
FCC CONCERNS OVER AT&T-TIME WARNER DEAL — WSJ’s Shalini Ramachandran, Ryan Knutson and John D. McKinnon: “AT&T Inc.’s practice of exempting its streaming video services from data-usage caps is rankling competitors and shaping up as a major issue for regulators set to weigh the telecom giant’s proposed $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner Inc.
“When AT&T rolls out its $35-a-month DirecTV Now online TV service this month, its wireless subscribers will be able to stream as much as they want without it counting toward their monthly data caps. But if the same customers binge on outside services like Netflix or Hulu, those bits will add up — potentially leading to surcharges.” Read more.
CHINA-MALAYSIA SIGNS TRADE DEALS — FT’s Charles Clover: “China and Malaysia signed several trade and investment deals on Tuesday as China denied that it was trying to buy better ties with its southern neighbor.
“The agreements signed on Tuesday with China will further invigorate the Beijing- Kuala Lumpur alignment and strain ties with the US. Most significantly, the two nations agreed to a wide ranging naval co-operation deal in which they will jointly develop coastal patrol vessels.” Read more.
FREDDIE MAC PAYS OUT — POLITICO Pro’s Lorraine Woellert: “Freddie Mac will send a $2.3 billion dividend payment to taxpayers after profits more than doubled from three months earlier.
“That’s what the mortgage-finance company earned in the third quarter, buoyed by strong home-price growth and market reaction to Brexit. The $2.3 billion profit was up from $993 million in the second quarter and a dramatic reversal of a $475 million loss a year ago.” Read more.
HULU BUNDLES UP FOR 2017 — The Atlantic’s David Sims: “Though “cord-cutting” is on the rise and subscription numbers have declined, the change has been gradual enough to not cut too deeply into profit margins. That may change in 2017, however, with the news that Hulu will offer more than 35 live TV networks to subscribers in the New Year for an as-yet undetermined price. With this kind of “bundling,” where various popular channels are sold as a package, streaming TV is starting to more closely resemble the very thing it was meant to replace.” Read more.
GAS BREACH DRIVES UP PRICES — Washington Post’s Steven Mufson: “For the second time in less than two months, a major breach closed down a key gasoline pipeline, driving up fuel prices and demonstrating the vulnerability of the entire Eastern Seaboard to an accident on a single piece of infrastructure.
“Gasoline prices before taxes and fees soared Tuesday more than at any time since 2008. Early in the day, prices jumped 15 percent but finished the day up 4.6 percent at $1.4841 a gallon after the company said it hoped to reopen the pipeline Saturday afternoon.” Read more.
KOREA NAMES NEW PM AND FINANCIAL MINISTER — Bloomberg’s Kanga Kong: “South Korean President Park Geun-hye named a new prime minister and finance minister Wednesday as she seeks to stem the fallout from an influence-peddling scandal threatening her grip on power.
“Park nominated Kim Byong-joon, a policy adviser under the administration of former President Roh Moo-hyun, as prime minister to take over from Hwang Kyo-ahn. Yim Jong-yong, chairman of the nation’s Financial Services Commission, will take over from Yoo Il-ho in the top finance role.” Read more.
IRAQI FORCES ENTER MOSUL — AP’s Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Brian Rohan: “Iraq’s special forces fought their way into the outskirts of Mosul on Tuesday, taking its state television building despite resistance by Islamic State group fighters that is only likely to stiffen when combat reaches the inner city.
“It was the first time Iraqi troops have set foot in the city, Iraq’s second-largest, in more than two years. The advance was the start of what is likely to be a grueling and slow operation for the forces as they fend off booby traps and ambushes in difficult, house-to-house fighting expected to take weeks, if not months.” Read more.
GANNETT DUMPS TRONC — NYT’s Leslie Picker and Sydney Ember: “For a deal that took six months of battling back and forth, the message of its collapse was cursory. In a brief telephone conversation early Tuesday morning, Robert J. Dickey, the chief executive of the Gannett Company, told his counterpart at the company formerly known as Tribune Publishing that Gannett, the nation’s largest chain of newspapers, was dropping its $680 million-plus takeover bid — weeks after a price had been agreed upon.
“A deal would have merged the publisher of USA Today with the owner of The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune. It was intended to build a scale large enough to cut costs and eke out profits in an industry struggling with shrinking advertising revenue and declining circulations. Over the six months when the two companies sparred over a deal, the advertising market for newspapers was deteriorating. Last week, the banks that would have financed a purchase balked” Read more.
NEW REGS HITTING PROFITS … AND SAFETY? — Via TCH: “[N]ew research … finds that changes in regulation are reducing banks’ profitability and therefore the market value of their equity. Post-crisis financial regulations have made banks more resilient to adverse economic and financial shocks by requiring them to hold substantially more capital and made their balance sheets substantially more liquid. However … lower profitability and market value reduce bank resilience” Read more.
2:00 pm || Speaks at a rally for Hillary Clinton; Unversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Later, the president will fly to Miami, where he will remain overnight.
All times Eastern
The House and Senate are out.
New Law Sets Jan. 31 W-2 Filing Deadline; Some Refunds Delayed Until Feb. 15
A new federal law moves up the W-2 filing deadline for employers and small businesses to Jan. 31. The new law makes it easier for the IRS to find and stop refund fraud. It also delays some taxpayer refunds. Those taxpayers claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit won’t see refunds until Feb.15, at the earliest.
Here are some key points to keep in mind:
- Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act. Enacted last December, the new law means employers need to file their copies of Forms W-2 by Jan. 31. These forms also go to the Social Security Administration. The new deadline also applies to certain Forms 1099. Those reporting nonemployee compensation such as payments to independent contractors submitted to the IRS are due Jan. 31. Employers have long faced a Jan. 31 deadline in providing copies of these forms to their employees. That date won’t change.
- Different from past deadline. Employers normally had until the end of February, if filing on paper, or the end of March, if filing electronically, to send in copies of these forms. The IRS is working with the payroll community and other partners to spread the word.
- Helps stop fraud or errors. The new Jan. 31 deadline will help the IRS to spot errors on returns filed by taxpayers. Having these W-2s and 1099s sooner will make it easier for the IRS to verify legitimate tax returns and get refunds to taxpayers eligible to receive them. The changes will allow the IRS to send some tax refunds faster.
- Some refunds delayed. Certain taxpayers will get their refunds a bit later. By law, the IRS must hold refunds for any tax return claiming either the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) until Feb. 15. This means the whole refund, not just the part related to the EITC or ACTC.
- File tax returns normally. Taxpayers should file their returns as they normally do. The IRS issues more than nine out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days. However, some returns may need further review. Whether or not claiming EITC or ACTC, the IRS cautions taxpayers not to count on getting a refund by a certain date. Consider this fact when making major purchases or paying debts.
- Use IRS.gov online tools. Starting Feb. 15, the best way to check the status of a refund is with the Where’s My Refund? tool on IRS.gov or the IRS2Go Mobile App.
Taxpayers should keep a copy of their tax return. Beginning in 2017, taxpayers may need their Adjusted Gross Income amount from a prior tax return to verify their identity. They can get a transcript of their return at www.irs.gov/transcript.