Off the Wires

Governors salivate over $1 trillion infrastructure pledge

February 24th, 2017  |  Source: Reuters

President Donald Trump's campaign promise for a $1 trillion infrastructure program will be in focus when U.S. governors gather on Friday in Washington, D.C., with some states making wish lists of projects ranging from a bullet train to statewide broadband internet service.

The winter meeting of the National Governors Association running through Monday is expected to showcase rare bipartisan agreement on the need for more federal help in upgrading roads, bridges and airports, said Scott Pattison, the group's executive director.

"There's just this pent-up demand to deal with, whether it's a crack in a dam, a bridge, whatever it is," Pattison said in a telephone interview.

Although there is little movement on Capitol Hill to make Trump's infrastructure vow a reality, governors have sent the White House a list of 428 projects they say are ready to go with some extra federal spending.

The National Governors Association has not released the list but checks with some states hinted at the projects.

Democratic California Governor Jerry Brown has asked for $120 billion, saying that since the state made up 12 percent of the U.S. economy it deserves 12 percent of Trump's $1 trillion package.

"We're not talking about a few million, we're talking about tens of billions," Brown said of the infrastructure proposal this month as he sought federal aid to deal with a leaking dam and flooding.

Among California's big-ticket items is construction of a high-speed rail system linking San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Colorado and Minnesota want help building statewide broadband systems, with Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, a Democrat, saying his state needs $150 million for its broadband grid.

Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's top priority is $122 million for interstate highway repairs. South Carolina and Virginia want federal aid to deepen ports, among other projects.

In a letter to Trump, Republican Governor Henry McMaster said South Carolina also needed help replacing roads and bridges. "An appropriation of $5 billion from your infrastructure plan will help us bridge this economic gap," he wrote.

Pattison said governors wanted a "toolbox" of financing options, including municipal bonds, cash, public-private partnerships and federal matching funds.

The governors are scheduled to meet with Trump on Sunday evening and again on Monday morning.

One of the speakers at the governors' conference, Leo Hindery, a managing partner at New York's InterMedia Partners, will tell state executives that creating a federal infrastructure bank is the only way to fund the hundreds of billions of dollars needed for public works.

The United States has long been criticized for its lagging public works spending. The American Society of Civil Engineers has graded U.S. infrastructure at D+ and estimated the country needs to invest $3.6 trillion by 2020.

During his campaign, Trump said he wanted action on infrastructure in his first 100 days as president. That now seems unlikely. He also talked about creating a tax credit to encourage private sector investment.

Trump’s plans to create an infrastructure council have yet to get started. Republican lawmakers have said they expect to get White House infrastructure proposals but have given no details or timing.

Nicola Sturgeon calls for Trump's UK visit to be cancelled over travel ban

January 30th, 2017  |  Source: The Guardian

Scotland’s first minister urges Theresa May to speak up against the US president’s policies and the values they have exposed

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said that Donald Trump’s UK state visit ought to be cancelled while travel bans are in place as she called on the prime minister to speak up more strongly against the values that the US president’s policies have exposed.

Speaking after a one-to-one meeting with Theresa May that took place before the meeting of the joint ministerial committee in Cardiff, Sturgeon said she told the prime minister she should voice concerns about Trump more forcefully.

The Scottish National party leader told the Guardian: “I said that while everybody understands that she wants to build a constructive relationship, that relationship has to be based on values. I think many people would like to hear a stronger view from the UK government about the immigrant and refugee ban that was announced.

“I also said that I don’t think it would be appropriate in these circumstances for the state visit to go ahead while these bans are in place given the understandable concern that people have about them and the messages they send and the impact they have.”

Asked if May had been too quick to travel to the US to meet Trump, Sturgeon said: “She’s the prime minister of the UK. Everybody would understand she wants to build a positive relationship with the president of the United States. As first minister of Scotland I want to build a constructive relationship with the new administration. I’m not criticising her for that. But relationships have to be based on values.

“We’ve all got a duty to speak up for fundamental values. There’s a real concern on the part of many that introducing what is seen by many as a ban on Muslims, banning people because of their origin or faith, is deeply wrong and likely to be counterproductive in terms of the fight we all have an interest in against extremism and terrorism.

“In terms of the refugee ban, that in my view would go against the international obligations in terms of the Geneva convention and the moral obligation we all have to deal with the refugee crisis.”

Acknowledging that May had raised the point that these were matters for the US government, Sturgeon said: “But these are issues that start to touch on moral issues that go beyond individual countries policies. And we all have a duty in these instances to speak up when we consider values that we all hold dear to be under threat. As I said to the prime minister I think a lot of people would like to see her say something much more strong along those lines.”

She added: “Morality is something we all have to judge for ourselves. I think there’s a very strong body of opinion across the UK. Nobody is suggesting the president of American can’t come to the UK nor is anyone suggesting a state visit is not appropriate at some stage but while these bans that have caused so much concern are in place it would be inappropriate for the state visit to proceed. It would be better to reconsider the timing of it.”

Asked if she would meet Trump in Scotland, Sturgeon said: “The relationship between Scotland and America is important. I’m not going to start getting into refuse meeting people but nor am I going to maintain diplomatic silences over things that are really important in a values and principles sense.”

New U.S. U.N. envoy warns allies: have our back or we'll respond accordingly

January 27th, 2017  |  Source: Reuters

New U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, pledged on Friday to overhaul the world body and warned U.S. allies that if they do not have Washington's back then she is "taking names" and will respond.

Haley made brief remarks to the press as she arrived at U.N. headquarters in New York to present her credentials to U.N. chief Antonio Guterres.

"Our goal with the administration is to show value at the U.N. and the way that we'll show value is to show our strength, show our voice, have the backs of our allies and make sure that our allies have our back as well," Haley saidlef

"For those that don't have our back, we're taking names, we will make points to respond to that accordingly," she added.

Wall St. slips on President Trump's protectionist views

January 23rd, 2017  |  Source: Reuters

U.S. stocks lost ground on Monday as investors digested President Donald Trump's protectionist statements and sought safe-haven assets such as gold and U.S. Treasury bonds.

Trump, who met with a dozen prominent American manufacturers at the White House, said he would slash regulations and cut corporate taxes to boost the economy.

He, however, reinforced his stance of putting "America first" by warning manufacturers of penalties if they moved production outside the country.

The Trump trade, which led Wall Street to repeated highs since the election, has unraveled in recent weeks as investors fret about the potential impact of his isolationist stance on world trade and the lack of clarity on his policies.

"I think the market wants to see more definitive statements like how healthcare and tax reforms get played out, so there is no reason for it to be excited," said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Boston Private Wealth.

At 10:55 a.m. ET (1555 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was down 65.9 points, or 0.33 percent, at 19,761.35, the S&P 500 .SPX was down 9.93 points, or 0.43 percent, at 2,261.38 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was down 22.81 points, or 0.41 percent, at 5,532.52.

Trump has made it clear that he plans to hold talks with leaders of Canada and Mexico to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and intends to withdraw from the 12-nation trade pact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The dollar .DXY hit a six-week low on Monday, while prices of safe-haven gold rose for the third straight day.

Oil prices fell about 1 percent on signs of strong U.S. drilling activity. The S&P energy index .SPNY hit its lowest level since Nov. 30.

Eight other S&P sectors were also lower. Safe-haven stocks utilities .SPLRCU and real-estate .SPLRCR were the outliers.

Qualcomm (QCOM.O) dropped 13.4 percent to $54.44 after Apple (AAPL.O) filed a $1 billion lawsuit against the chip supplier on Friday. Qualcomm was the biggest drag on the S&P and the Nasdaq, while Apple's stock was flat.

Halliburton (HAL.N) fell 3.4 percent after the world's No. 2 oilfield services provider reported a bigger loss in the latest quarter.

Wilbur Ross, Trump's Commerce pick, offshored 2,700 jobs since 2004

January 17th, 2017  |  Source:

Billionaire Wilbur Ross, chosen by Donald Trump to help implement the president-elect's trade agenda, earned his fortune in part by running businesses that have offshored thousands of U.S. jobs, according to Labor Department data attained by Reuters.

As a high-stakes investor a decade ago, Ross specialized in turning around troubled manufacturing companies at a time when the U.S. economy was losing more than 100,000 jobs yearly due to global trade. A Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination to become commerce secretary is set for Wednesday.

Supporters say Ross saved thousands of U.S. jobs by rescuing firms from failure. Data attained by Reuters through a Freedom of Information Act request shows that rescue effort came at a price: textile, finance and auto-parts companies controlled by the private-equity titan eliminated about 2,700 U.S. positions since 2004 because they shipped production to other countries, according to a Labor Department program that assists workers who lose their jobs due to global trade.


The figures, which have not previously been disclosed, amount to a small fraction of the U.S. economy, which sees employment fluctuate by the tens of thousands of jobs each month. But Ross's track record clashes with Trump's promise to protect American workers from the ravages of global trade.

Recently, Trump claimed credit for saving 800 jobs at a Carrier Corp. factory in Indiana, even touring the plant to shake hands with employees. He has targeted Ford Motor Co (F.N) and other automakers to keep hundreds of jobs inside the U.S. borders.

That disconnect could draw attention at his hearing, one of many scheduled this week for Cabinet nominees ahead of Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration.

"He is not the man to be protecting American workers when he's shipping this stuff overseas himself," said Don Coy, who lost his job at the end of 2016 when a company Ross created - International Automotive Components Group - closed a factory in Canton, Ohio and shifted production of rubber floor mats to Mexico, eliminating the final 16 jobs in a factory that once employed 450 workers.

Ross resigned from the IAC board of directors in November 2014 and was named chairman emeritus.

Ross did not respond to several requests for comment. His offshoring activities are not unusual in an era when globalization has lowered international trade barriers. Auto-parts maker Delphi Corp., for example, has offshored 11,700 U.S. jobs since 2004, while textile makers have offshored at least 17,000 jobs since then, the Labor Department said.

As IAC shuttered its Canton plant in the final months of 2016, Ross argued on behalf of Trump that free-trade agreements hurt the United States.

"When Ford offshores new production facilities to Mexico, that both boosts the Mexican economy and reduces investment in this country," he wrote in September in a Washington Post opinion piece penned with Peter Navarro, another Trump economic adviser who has been tapped to direct a White House trade council.

In a bid to reverse offshoring, Trump has threatened to impose "a big border tax" on automakers that choose to build cars in Mexico rather than the United States and has talked of resetting free-trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

A Trump transition spokesperson said personnel decisions at Ross's auto-parts and textile companies were driven by the need to put operations near customers and keep U.S. plants competitive, echoing arguments made by other auto industry executives who face pressure from Trump.

"Few people have done as much to defend American jobs and negotiate good deals for American workers as Wilbur Ross," said the spokesperson, who asked not to be named.

The offshoring figures for Ross's companies came from the Labor Department's Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which provides retraining benefits to some workers who lose their jobs due to outsourcing or cheap imports. The program does not cover everybody who is hurt by global trade: service-sector workers were not eligible until 2009, and those who don't apply for the program don't show up in its records.

Only 1.6 million factory workers qualified for TAA benefits between 2001 and 2010, a time when the United States shed 6 million manufacturing jobs.

Despite Trump's campaign rhetoric about countries like Mexico and China taking U.S. jobs, the TAA figures show globalization has claimed fewer jobs in recent years. The program covered roughly 80,000 workers last year, down from about 340,000 in 2009.

Ross amassed a fortune, estimated by Forbes magazine at $2.5 billion, by buying up companies in struggling industries and returning them to profitability. Labor leaders such as United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard have said that Ross over the years saved thousands of manufacturing jobs.

In one case, Ross bought two struggling North Carolina fabric makers out of bankruptcy to create International Textile Group (ITG) in 2004, as textile import quotas were being phased out. Between 2005 and 2011, the company laid off 1,268 U.S. workers as it set up operations in Mexico, China and Nicaragua, TAA records show. ITG CEO Ken Kunenberger told Reuters that those job reductions were primarily due to competition from cheap imports.

ITG now operates six U.S. plants, down from nine in 2007, according to its annual reports. Ross sold the company in October for an undisclosed sum.


Trump risks 'war' with Beijing if US blocks access to South China Sea, state media warns

January 13th, 2017  |  Source: The Guardian

Threats by Rex Tillerson, would-be secretary of state, to stop access to islands are ‘mish-mash of naivety and shortsightedness’, says China Daily

The US risks a “large-scale war” with China if it attempts to blockade islands in the South China Sea, Chinese state media has said, adding that if recent statements become policy when Donald Trump takes over as president “the two sides had better prepare for a military clash”.

China has controversially built fortifications and artificial islands across the South China Sea. Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, said China’s “access to those islands … is not going to be allowed”.

China claims nearly the entire area, with rival claims by five south-east Asian neighbours and Taiwan.

Tillerson did not specify how the US would block access but experts agreed it could only be done by a significant show of military force. Tillerson likened China’s island building to “Russia’s taking of Crimea”.

“Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories,” said an editorial in the Global Times, a Communist-party controlled newspaper.

“China has enough determination and strength to make sure that his rabble rousing will not succeed … Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish.”

Supreme Court rejects Dow over $1 billion tax deduction claim

January 9th, 2017  |  Source: Reuters

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear Dow Chemical Co's (DOW.N) bid to revive its claim to more than $1 billion in tax deductions based on partnerships the company entered into that lower courts said were created primarily to avoid tax liability and had no legitimate business purpose.

The justices left in place two rulings by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of the U.S. government over the two partnerships that ran from 1993 to 2003.

The lower courts agreed with the Internal Revenue Service that Dow did not deserve the tax benefits, and also imposed a 20 percent penalty for negligence and substantial understatement of taxes.

The case involved the partnerships Chemtech I and Chemtech II, which ran respectively from 1993 to 1997, and 1998 to 2003.

Chemtech I was a type of tax shelter marketed by Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) to large companies under the name SLIPs, which stood for Special Limited Investment Partnerships, while Chemtech II was created by the King & Spalding law firm. The law firm helped implement both.

The appeals court said in its first 2014 ruling that Chemtech I allowed deductions for royalty costs tied to the use of 73 Dow patents, while Chemtech II allowed deductions tied to the depreciation of a $715 million chemical plant that had a tax basis of just $18.5 million. In a subsequent 2016 decision, the appeals court upheld penalties imposed by the district court.

Civil rights activists arrested protesting Trump's Attorney General pick

January 4th, 2017  |  Source: Reuters

Police in Alabama arrested six civil rights activists staging a sit-in at Senator Jeff Sessions' office on Tuesday to protest his nomination for U.S. Attorney General, criticizing his record on voting rights and race relations.

Sessions, 70, has a history of controversial positions on race, immigration and criminal justice reform.

Members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had vowed to occupy Sessions' Mobile, Alabama office until the conservative Republican lawmaker either withdrew as a candidate or they were arrested.

In the end, Cornell Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP, and Stephen Green, national director of the youth division of the NAACP, were among those arrested, according to a post on the Twitter page of the civil rights organization.

The other four protesters arrested by police included Benard Simelton, president of the NAACP's Alabama state conference, according to local news outlet

A spokesman for Mobile police could not be reached for comment late on Tuesday.

The six protesters were charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing, according to CNN.

Brooks before his arrest had posted a photo on Twitter of protesters in suits occupying the senator's Mobile office.

"Senator Sessions has callously ignored the reality of voter suppression but zealously prosecuted innocent civil rights leaders on trumped-up charges of voter fraud," Brooks said in a news release.

A spokeswoman for Sessions called the NAACP's criticisms "false portrayals."

"Jeff Sessions has dedicated his career to upholding the rule of law, ensuring public safety and prosecuting government corruption," spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement. "Many African-American leaders who've known him for decades attest to this and have welcomed his nomination to be the next Attorney General."

President-elect Donald Trump in November named Sessions to lead the Justice Department and the FBI, and his history could come under scrutiny from fellow senators during a confirmation process.

Sessions was a U.S. prosecutor in 1986 when he became only the second nominee in 50 years to be denied confirmation as a federal judge. This came after allegations that he made racist remarks, including testimony that he called an African-American prosecutor "boy," an allegation Sessions denied.

Sessions denied he was a racist and said at his hearing that groups such as the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union could be considered "un-American."

He also acknowledged calling the Voting Rights Act of 1965 "intrusive legislation."

House Republicans abandon controversial changes to ethics office

January 3rd, 2017  |  Source:

That was fast.

Amid intense blowback, Republicans in the US House of Representatives on Tuesday said they had scrapped planned changes to the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, a non-partisan agency that probes claims of misconduct against House members and staff.

Proponents said the changes would introduce greater due-process into the body’s work, but some Democratic lawmakers and government watchdog groups had criticised the proposed changes, saying they would strip the body of its independence and put it under the oversight of the same politicians subject to its investigations.

Even US President-elect Donald Trump tweeted about it, saying that Congress had “so many things of far greater importance” on which to focus.

Following the outcry, Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, on Tuesday morning launched a motion to remove the ethics amendment from a package of legislation, which was quickly passed unanimously, said a Republican aide.

“Some members were expressing that they would have a hard time voting for the package” if it contained the ethics changes, said the aide. The broader package sets the rules for the new Congress, which is due to be sworn in later today.

Trump assails GM over car production in Mexico, threatens tax

January 3rd, 2017  |  Source: Reuters

President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday threatened to impose a "big border tax" on General Motors Co for making some of its Chevrolet Cruze compact cars in Mexico, an arrangement the largest U.S. automaker defended as part of its strategy to serve global customers, not sell them in the United States.

Trump's comments marked his latest broadside aimed at an American company over jobs, imports and costs before he takes office on Jan. 20, signaling an uncommon degree of intervention for an incoming U.S. president into corporate affairs.

"General Motors is sending Mexican made model of Chevy Cruze to U.S. car dealers-tax free across border. Make in U.S.A. or pay big border tax!" Trump said in a post on Twitter.

Trump did not provide further details but previously vowed to hit companies that shift production from America to other countries with a 35 percent tax on their exports into the United States. He also has denounced the North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada.

GM, the world's No. 3 automaker, said it sold about 190,000 Cruze cars in the United States in 2016. All of the sedan versions sold in the United States, or about 185,500, were built at its plant in Lordstown, Ohio. About 4,500 hatchback versions of the Cruze were assembled in Mexico and sold in the United States.

"GM builds the Chevrolet Cruze hatchback for global markets in Mexico, with a small number sold in the U.S." it said in a statement posed on its website.

The Cruze is one of GM's best-selling cars, although its sales numbers were down significantly in 2016.

Shares of GM rose 1 percent to $35.19 after falling about 1 percent following Trump's tweet before the market opened.

Since winning the Nov. 8 presidential election, Trump has targeted GM's rival Ford Motor Co, United Technologies Inc, Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp. Trump also has touted decisions by companies to keep some production in the United States, including United's Carrier unit in Indiana.

Last month, Trump announced the formation of a council to advise him on job creation comprised of leaders from a variety of major U.S. corporations including GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra.

GM said in 2015 it would build its next-generation Chevrolet Cruze compact in Mexico as automakers look to expand in the Latin American nation to take advantage of low labor costs and free trade agreements. The company said in 2015 it would invest $350 million to produce the Cruze at its plant in Coahuila as part of the $5 billion investment in its Mexican plants announced in 2014, creating 5,600 jobs.

GM said last year it would import some Cruze cars from Mexico.

Trump, a Republican who will succeed Democratic President Barack Obama, campaigned for president using tough rhetoric on trade and promises to protect American workers, and targeted several companies by name.

His latest comments come as a congressional Republican tax proposal meant to boost U.S. manufacturing faces mounting pressure from industries that rely heavily on imported goods or parts.

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