Monthly Archives: November 2018

President Donald Trump reportedly wants to end federal relief money for Puerto Rico to aid its recovery from Hurricane Maria, the worst natural disaster on record to affect the island.

EFE reported on Sunday that Trump has told GOP leaders and appropriators he does not want to provide more disaster relief funds to Puerto Rico, claiming without evidence that the money is being misused and mismanaged.

Trump also said he wants to roll back some of the funding Congress has already set aside for Hurricane Maria relief, which he cannot do.

The White House declined to comment for the EFE report and did not immediately respond to The Hill.

The president’s reluctance to provide funding stems in part from a misreading of a Wall Street Journal article, Axios reported. The Journal article from October reportedly led him to believe the Puerto Rican government has been using disaster relief money to pay off its debt, though that is not the conclusion of the piece.

Trump’s remarks leave in doubt whether he will sign a future spending bill that includes money for Puerto Rico.

A new study commissioned by the Puerto Rican government over the summer estimates Hurricane Maria killed 2,975 people on the island, finding the risk of death was 45 percent higher for “populations living in low socioeconomic development municipalities” and men aged 65 years and older.

Trump without evidence cast doubt on the official death toll of nearly 3,000, while the researchers have stood by their conclusion.

The Category 5 hurricane devastated the island’s infrastructure and resources in 2017, causing lasting damage to the livelihoods and homes of thousands of Puerto Ricans.

The federal government has spent around $6 billion on recovery from Hurricane Maria so far, less than it spent on Hurricane Katrina, EFE noted.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in a report released in July admitted the agency was significantly underprepared to deal with the crisis wrought by Hurricane Maria.

“FEMA leadership acknowledged that the Agency could have better anticipated that the severity of hurricanes Irma and Maria would cause long-term, significant damage to the territories’ infrastructure,” the report reads.

Trump in the days after the storm blamed the Puerto Rican government for the significant damage, pointing to the island’s debt.

SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With the Federal Reserve expected next month to raise rates to what some U.S. central bankers believe is at or near a neutral level, Chairman Jerome Powell is retuning his message to signal a more cautious approach on further rate hikes next year.

It is not clear whether the idea of perhaps nudging rates above neutral, as he had earlier suggested, is still on the table, or if it means he expects fewer rate hikes, or even a pause.

But minutes from the Fed’s Nov. 7-8 policy-setting meeting, released on Thursday, as well as remarks over the last two weeks, point to a reassessment of the Fed’s longstanding promise of “further gradual rate increases” that would extend two years of nearly uninterrupted quarterly tightening.

“Many participants indicated that it might be appropriate at some upcoming meetings to begin to transition to statement language that placed greater emphasis on the evaluation of incoming data in assessing the economic and policy outlook,” the minutes said.

The transition comes as the Fed’s target policy rate, left at 2 percent to 2.25 percent in November, grinds closer to the 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent range of Fed officials’ views of where a rate that neither boosts nor cools a healthy economy lies.

Back in August, Powell had rejected a too rigid reliance on an abstract guidepost like the neutral rate to shape policy, saying it could lead to costly mistakes. Yet he has kept talking about it. (Graphic: tmsnrt.rs/2RnpbfB)

His renewed focus on the “neutral” level of interest rates as a potential turning point for policy that until now has been on a steady tightening path is echoed by the minutes.

Ironically, it was a reference to that guidepost that led to what in retrospect looks like a communication stumble, when stocks tumbled in early October after Powell’s remark that interest rates were a “long way” from neutral and might even need to rise above that level.

Market reaction reflected investors’ fears the Fed might end up making the kind of mistake Powell talked about – tightening policy too much because of a false read on where neutral is, at a time when clouds had begun to form on the economic horizon.

There are many reasons why Powell would pick now to begin shifting his footing. Since a September news conference when he painted a rosy picture of where things stood, some economic indicators have softened; others, such as wage growth, have firmed, leaving the Fed for the first time in a long time pulled in different directions.

Then there is President Donald Trump, who has berated him for raising rates. And Powell’s own communications plans to end each meeting with a news conference starting next year mean he needs a clear message for each meeting, starting next month.

At the Dec. 18-19 meeting, expected to bring the Fed’s target rate to between 2.25 percent and 2.5 percent, Fed officials will clarify where things stand when they will update their projections on expected rate increases for 2019. Currently they foresee three quarter point hikes.

FEELING IN THE DARK

In remarks delivered two weeks ago on a late evening in Dallas, Powell refined his summertime message, explaining that just as someone in a room where the lights suddenly go out must “slow down” to avoid running into furniture, the Fed must do the same when nearing neutral to avoid missing signals from economic data.

On Wednesday addressing a conference in New York, Powell amplified that message, saying that rates are “just below” the Fed’s range of estimates for neutral. In a sign of possible coordination or at least agreement among influential policymakers, his phrasing was the same as used by the Fed’s No. 2, Richard Clarida, just a day earlier.

“The markets really got a head fake in October, (but on Wednesday) he strongly walked back those expectations,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West.

Wednesday’s remarks sent stocks soaring and moved at least one analyst, Gregory Daco at Oxford Economics, to expect two instead of three rate hikes next year, as the Fed steers the economy toward a “soft landing” where it could keep growing at a slower clip without stoking inflation.

After the release of the Fed’s meeting minutes, traders of interest-rate futures stuck to their bets that the Fed would slow rate hikes next year, to just one.

Part of Powell’s caution reflects inherent uncertainty over how the economy responds to interest rate increases. Speaking on Wednesday, Powell said the effects of Fed policy decisions “may take a year or more to be fully realized.”

Tim Duy, an economics professor at the University of Oregon who follows the Fed closely, said it was a sign the Fed was ready to wait to see how past hikes will play out.

“To me, this implies a willingness to be more patient in the lower end of the range of neutral,” he told Reuters.

Karim Basta, chief economist at III Capital Management, said recent market volatility showed toning down the neutral rate debate was the way forward. “It’s ironic that a concept, the neutral rate, in which the Fed has such little confidence, has swung markets so dramatically in the past two months,” Basta said. “The Fed may be well served to steer the focus away from the concept of the neutral rate and toward the underlying economy itself.”

 

    TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) – A handful of the thousands of Central American migrants camped out at the U.S.-Mexican border waiting to plead their case for asylum in the United States launched a hunger strike on Thursday to protest the Mexican police blocking their way.

    Members of the 6,000-strong caravan, mostly migrants from Honduras, have been sleeping outdoors, on cold floors or on mats in an overcrowded shelter since they arrived in Tijuana city across the border from San Diego, California, three weeks ago.

    Mexican immigration authorities on Thursday began transporting some of the migrants via buses to a new shelter to help lessen the strain.

    Under the harsh immigration policies introduced by the administration of President Donald Trump, U.S. border officials say they may have to stay put in Mexico for months before they can petition the authorities.

    U.S. customs and border control officers fired tear gas canisters into Mexico at dozens of migrants who tried to rush border fencing on Sunday.

    On Thursday, as a steady rain fell and partially flooded the sports complex serving as the main shelter, it was Mexican police who stopped more than a dozen migrants from the caravan approaching the nearby El Chaparral border crossing.

    “What the police are doing is unfair. The truth is we are fighting for our rights,” said one of the migrants, Gerson Madrid, a 22-year-old Honduran who started the trek to the United States in early October to better provide for a young daughter he left behind.

    Madrid said the group was starting a three-day hunger strike to draw attention to the standoff.

    “Why are (the police) treating us like this if we’re not causing them or the Mexican people any trouble?” he said.

    Officials with Mexico’s human rights commission said the new facility opened on Thursday is bigger than the sports complex, which can handle only about 2,000 people, and will ensure migrants are not forced to sleep out in the open.

    Overcrowding along with cooler temperatures and rain has already helped spread illness among migrants, including flu-like sicknesses, lice and chicken pox, according to city officials who declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

    Despite the conditions, many caravan migrants appeared determined to wait as long as it takes, with more than 600 applying for work permits in Mexico earlier this week, according to Mexican officials.

    Trump has threatened to “permanently” close the U.S.-Mexican border if Mexico does not deport those gathered in Tijuana.

    Mexico’s government has pushed back, arguing that the migrants have a right to ask U.S. officials for asylum. U.N. agencies said this week asylum seekers fleeing violence or persecution are entitled to lodge claims to obtain sanctuary.

      By Julie Zauzmer and Michelle Boorstein

      BALTIMORE — The Vatican stymied a plan by America’s Catholic leaders to confront sexual abuse, insisting in a surprise directive on Monday morning that U.S. bishops postpone their efforts to hold bishops more responsible in the abuse cases that have scourged the church.

      Bishops attending the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed a mixture of disappointment, acceptance and frustration at the news from Rome, while angry victims’ advocates accused church leaders of impeding reforms.

      “What we see here is the Vatican again trying to suppress even modest progress by the U.S. bishops,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, which compiles data on clergy abuse in the church. “We’re seeing where the problem lies, which is with the Vatican.”

      In an unusual move intended to display strength and empathy with survivors, the bishops representing the country’s 196 archdiocese and dioceses had devoted their agenda almost exclusively to the burgeoning crisis starting with a period of prayer Monday. They had planned to vote Wednesday on a code of conduct, the first such ethical guidelines for bishops on sex abuse issues, and to establish a lay commission capable of investigating bishops’ misconduct.

      Instead, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo — the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference — told the group that the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops had asked the bishops not to take action until after a worldwide meeting of church leaders in February.

      “At the insistence of the Holy See, we will not be voting on the two action items,” DiNardo said, adding that he was “disappointed” by the Vatican’s move.

      Moments later, in what appeared to be an oblique reference to the bishops’ lay commission proposal and the growing number of U.S. state and federal investigations into the Catholic Church, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States warned the bishops not to rely on outside investigations.

      “There may be a temptation on the part of some to relinquish responsibility for reform to others from ourselves, as if we were no longer capable of reforming or trusting ourselves,” Archbishop Christophe Pierre, a French bishop who was sent by Pope Francis to Washington from France in 2016, said. “Assistance is both welcome and necessary, and surely collaboration with the laity is essential. However, the responsibility as bishops of this Catholic Church is ours.”

      Pierre quoted a French author who said that “whoever pretends to reform the church with the same means to reform temporal society” will “fail.”

      It is unclear what, if anything, the three-day meeting will now accomplish on the topic of abuse. Leaders said that the bishops will still spend Tuesday and Wednesday debating and fine-tuning their proposals, as planned.

      Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago quickly proposed an alternative to the Vatican’s request that no vote be taken. He suggested a nonbinding vote at this session, followed by an additional meeting of all the bishops in March — after Francis’s worldwide meeting — to formally vote on these policies as soon as possible.

      Some bishops said the Vatican’s request alone damages American leaders’ efforts to regain parishioners’ trust, after a longtime church leader — ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick — was revealed this year to have allegedly sexually harassed and molested multiple victims, and after a Pennsylvania grand jury report documented decades of abuse by hundreds of priests.

      “This kind of thing is a blow to what we’re trying to overcome here in the United States – the perception of a hierarchy that is unresponsive to the reality of the tragedy,” said Jefferson City Bishop Shawn McKnight.

      He said bishops need to be able to call out and challenge people over them – meaning members of the Roman Curia, which would be a major shift in an extremely hierarchical faith.

      “I’m beginning to wonder if we need to look at a resolution where we refuse to participate in any kind of cover-up from those above us,” McKnight, who became a bishop nine months ago, said. “It’s for the good of the church. We have to be respectful of the Roman Curia but also we have an obligation to our people. And our priests.”

      Other bishops, including Bishop Christopher Coyne, appeared less perturbed by the Vatican-imposed delay — even suggesting that it might be for the best.

      “My first reaction was: ‘Oh boy, this won’t go over well,’ because they’ll see it as a political,” said Coyne, head of the USCCB’s communications committee and Vermont’s only bishop who had expressed skepticism last week that the bishops needed a code of conduct. Now he views Rome’s intervention as a reminder that the Catholic Church “is a universal church.”

      “We in the U.S. can have a limited view of the worldwide church,” he said. “…It would be difficult if we came up with [different] policies and procedures.”

      Even as he reiterated his disappointment, DiNardo also referenced the need to defer to Rome.

      “We are Roman Catholic bishops, in communion with our Holy Father in Rome. And he has people around him who are what we call congregations or offices, and we’re responsible to them, in that communion of faith,” DiNardo said in an afternoon press conference.

      In its rush to respond to the crisis that re-emerged in June, DiNardo said the U.S. bishops informed the Vatican of their general plans for their meeting in September and October. But they did not present the precise documents — including the code of conduct for bishops — that the body would be debating at this meeting until about Oct. 30, he said. On Sunday night, DiNardo got the letter from the Congregation for Bishops, the powerful Vatican body, which DiNardo said also raised questions of whether the documents ran afoul of some fine points of canon law.

       

      SAN FRANCISCO – A U.S. judge on Monday temporarily blocked an order by President Donald Trump that barred asylum for immigrants who enter the country illegally from Mexico, the latest courtroom defeat for Trump on immigration policy.

      U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco issued a temporary restraining order against the asylum rules. Tigar’s order takes effect immediately, applies nationwide, and lasts until at least Dec. 19 when the judge scheduled a hearing to consider a more long-lasting injunction.

      Representatives for the U.S. Department of Justice could not immediately be reached for comment.

      Trump cited an overwhelmed immigration system for his recent proclamation that officials will only process asylum claims for migrants who present themselves at an official entry point. Civil rights groups sued, arguing that Trump’s Nov. 9 order violated administrative and immigration law.

      In his ruling, Tigar said Congress clearly mandated that immigrants can apply for asylum regardless of how they entered the country. The judge called the latest rules an “extreme departure” from prior practice.

      “Whatever the scope of the President’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden,” Tigar wrote.

      Tigar was nominated to the court by President Barack Obama.

      Previous Trump immigration policies, including measures targeting sanctuary cities, have also been blocked by the courts.

      The asylum ruling came as thousands of Central Americans, including a large number of children, are traveling in caravans toward the U.S. border to escape violence and poverty at home. Some have already arrived at Tijuana, a Mexican city on the border with California.

      “IT IS TOO MUCH”

      Rights groups have said immigrants are being forced to wait days or weeks at the border before they can present themselves for asylum, and the administration has been sued for deliberately slowing processing times at official ports.

      At a hearing earlier on Monday, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt said the order clearly conflicted with the Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows any person present in the United States to seek asylum, regardless of how they entered the country.

      Gelernt said the ACLU had recently learned Mexican authorities have begun barring unaccompanied minors from applying at U.S. ports of entry.

      Mexico’s migration institute said in a statement to Reuters that there was “no basis” for the ACLU’s claims, noting that there had been no such reports from the United Nations or human rights groups that are monitoring the situation at the border.

      Uriel Gonzalez, the head of a YMCA shelter for young migrants in Tijuana, said he had not heard of any new measures directed at unaccompanied minors. He noted there were already long lines to get a turn with U.S. authorities.

      “This can take a while because the number of migrants has overwhelmed capacity. It is too much,” he said.

      The judge on Monday wrote that Trump’s refugee rule would force people with legitimate asylum claims “to choose between violence at the border, violence at home, or giving up a pathway to refugee status.”

      Caravan participants began to arrive last week in Tijuana on the Mexican side of the U.S. border, which has put a strain on shelters where many will wait to seek asylum. Their presence has also strained Tijuana’s reputation as a welcoming city, with some residents screaming at the migrants, “Get out!”

      Trump sent more than 5,000 soldiers to the 2,000-mile (3,100 km) frontier with Mexico to harden the border, although critics dismissed the move as a political stunt ahead of congressional elections on Nov. 6.

      Reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware and Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana; Editing by Leslie Adler, Tom Brown and Andrew Heavens

        A traders works on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., November 20, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

        (Reuters) – U.S. stocks opened sharply lower on Tuesday as poor forecasts from retailers for the holiday quarter fed into a market driven lower this week by concerns about demand for iPhones.

        The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 398.76 points, or 1.59 percent, at the open to 24,618.68.

        The S&P 500 .SPX opened lower by 36.13 points, or 1.34 percent, at 2,654.60. The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 161.05 points, or 2.29 percent, to 6,867.43 at the opening bell.

         

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        Notice to MBE, WBE, SDVOB, DBE, Section 3, HUB, etc., as applicable. Conifer-LeChase Construction, LLC is requesting bids from certified MBE, WBE, SDVOB, Section 3 contractors for all trades for the Western NY Rural Preservation (C3PO) project. Bids are due 12/3/18, at 2:00 pm. Submit a letter of interest in bidding the project to Conifer-LeChase Construction, LLC, attention Joe Stutzman. The letter should be on letterhead and include years in business, trade union affiliation, certified MBE, WBE, SDVOB, Section 3 status. Letters can be emailed to joe.stutzman@conifer-lechase.com or faxed to 585.760.5353. All qualified applicants will be afforded equal employment opportunities without discrimination because of race, creed, color, national origin, sex, age, disability or marital status.

        In September, Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) spoke on the Floor of the House of Representatives concerned that tariffs imposed by the Administration could cost consumers and local jobs at companies like New Era Cap Company, headquarted in Buffalo, New York.  Two months later that possibility became a reality as New Era announced plans to close its Western New York manufacturing plant in Derby, impacting 219 local workers.

        In a letter to New Era leadership, Congressman Higgins, a member of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, is pledging to work with New Era to advocate for relief of the tariffs which has a great impact on costs associated with production of the headwear assembled at the local manufacturing facility in Western New York.

        In formal comments submitted to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in August in response to the Administration’s proposed tariffs, New Era wrote in part: “The proposed 25% ad valorem on our finished headwear products coming out of China will impose near-crippling additional costs and threaten our ability to compete and grow our business.” The company’s public comments went on to say: “If the tariffs on headwear go into effect, the new costs will force us to make immediate and significant cuts to our US operations, including workforce reductions.” 

        Following conversations with New Era leadership related to the tariff notice, in September Higgins also wrote to Ambassador Lighthizer concerned that the proposed Section 310 Tariffs on headwear could jeopardize New Era’s ability to compete, grow and continue investment in Western New York.

        The Administration announced a 10% tariff on a list of goods, including headwear components, which went into effect September 24, 2018.  That tariff is scheduled to increase to 25% January 1, 2019.

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        WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker will consult with ethics officials about any matters that could require him to recuse himself, the Justice Department said on Monday, after critics called on him to step aside from overseeing a Special Counsel probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

        “Acting AG Matt Whitaker is fully committed to following all appropriate processes and procedures at the Department of Justice, including consulting with senior ethics officials on his oversight responsibilities and matters that may warrant recusal,” spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement.

        Whitaker became the acting attorney general last week after President Donald Trump ordered Jeff Sessions to resign following months of criticizing him for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, which Trump has repeatedly called a “witch hunt.”

        Sessions’ recusal paved the way for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint Special Counsel Robert Mueller in May 2017.

        The investigation has already led to criminal charges against dozens of people, including Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

        With Whitaker’s appointment, Rosenstein is no longer in charge of the Russia probe. Democrats in Congress have said they fear Whitaker could undermine or even fire Mueller after he expressed negative opinions about the probe before joining the Justice Department as Sessions’ chief of staff in October 2017.

        On Sunday, top Democrats in the House of Representatives and the Senate sent a letter to the Justice Department’s chief ethics officer to ask whether Whitaker had received any guidance on possibly recusing himself from the Russia probe.

        “Allowing a vocal opponent of the investigation to oversee it will severely undermine public confidence in the Justice Department’s work on this critically important matter,” the letter said.

        Democrats have also raised questions about whether Whitaker’s appointment was legal under the Constitution because Trump ignored a statutory line of succession and deprived senators of their “advice and consent” role.

        San Francisco’s city attorney said on Monday his office may take legal action if the Justice Department does not provide a legal justification for Whitaker’s appointment.

        The city has four cases proceeding in court that name Sessions as a defendant, including one which led to an injunction blocking a Trump executive order over “sanctuary cities” that the administration claims are protecting illegal immigrants from deportation.

        The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that the Justice Department expects to publish a legal opinion supporting Whitaker’s appointment.

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