February 23, 2018

The White House announced Friday that President Trump has authorized an extension of the disaster declaration in Puerto Rico. Under the extension, the island will receive 90 more days of federal funding for "debris removal" and 60 more days of funding for "emergency protective measures," to help continue recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria last September. The announcement amends Trump's previous disaster declaration, under which federal aid would have ended in mid-March.

The Trump administration's response to Hurricane Maria has been heavily criticized, and recovery efforts have been marred by bungled federal contracts for disaster relief. Almost half a year after the Category 5 hurricane hit Puerto Rico, 15 percent of the island remains without power. Kelly O'Meara Morales

February 21, 2018
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Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer want Congress to break open the piggy bank.

In a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Democratic leaders demand increased funds to protect U.S. election infrastructure from Russian interference, The Washington Post reported Wednesday. Pelosi, the House minority leader, and Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, specifically request lawmakers appropriate $300 million to the FBI to fight potential meddling in the midterms later this fall.

The minority leaders cite Special Counsel Robert Mueller's recent indictment of 13 Russians for interfering in the 2016 election, warning that "the most essential elements of America's democracy are under attack by a foreign adversary." The FBI needs "the resources and manpower to counter the influence of hostile foreign actors ... especially Russian operatives operating on our social media platforms," the Democrats argue, proposing the $300 million boost be included in the budget bill that is due March 23.

The Democratic leaders also note that U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian hackers breached state and local election systems during the 2016 cycle. In order to prevent that from happening again, Pelosi and Schumer say that "state and local governments [need] to enhance their defenses against cyber-attacks," calling for boosted funds to the Department of Homeland Security and Election Assistance Commission.

The letter, which was obtained by The Washington Post, is also signed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) Read more about it at The Washington Post. Kelly O'Meara Morales

February 8, 2018
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The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 600 points during trading Thursday, the latest major swing in a volatile week for the market. At its low, the Dow dropped roughly 650 points before recovering slightly, The Hill reports.

On Monday, the index recorded its largest ever single-day plunge, dropping more than 1,100 points by the time markets closed, though it recovered more than 560 of those points Tuesday.

Overall, the swings are modest compared to the overall gains the index has made over the last few years, CNBC notes. President Trump on Wednesday scolded the market for its declines, saying it was making a "big mistake" by falling in spite of "so much good (great) news about the economy." Kimberly Alters

January 24, 2018
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The NBA is ready to go all-in on legalized gambling.

ESPN reported Wednesday that the NBA has "formally requested" a set of guidelines by which it would abide gambling on its games, the latest in a series of signals that the league has warmed to the idea of sports betting. The NBA's proposal stipulates that it receive a 1 percent cut on any bets that are made on its games, which "could create massive revenue" for the league, ESPN explains.

For many years, the NBA was adamantly opposed to legalizing sports betting, particularly after dealing with the fallout of a 2007 scandal perpetuated by a referee who was betting on games he officiated. But under the leadership of commissioner Adam Silver, the league has increasingly entertained the idea, and on Wednesday a league attorney stated a desire for legal betting services at smartphones and kiosks, which ESPN explains "would increase the amount of wagering and, in turn, create more revenue for the league." Silver himself has expressed his support for in-game betting, which he said "results in enormous additional engagement with the fans."

Critics of sports betting have long claimed that its legalization could corrupt sports leagues and lead to cheating and fixing of games. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on a case to legalize sports betting in New Jersey at some point this year — a decision that ESPN explains "could clear the way for individual states to legalize sports betting at casinos and racetracks."

Under current federal law, sports gambling is only legal in Nevada. Read more at ESPN. Kelly O'Meara Morales

January 12, 2018
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Over one-fifth of President Trump's condos sold in America were purchased in transactions that have the characteristics of possible money laundering, BuzzFeed News reports. Over 1,300 of condominiums developed by Trump or licensed under his name "were bought not by people but by shell companies, and ... the purchases were made without a mortgage, avoiding inquiries from lenders," BuzzFeed News writes. The Treasury Department has flagged such sales as telltale signs of potential money laundering schemes, although not all such sales are necessarily indicators of illegal activity.

In one particularly startling case, though, the Trump SoHo Hotel Condominium in Manhattan, where Trump is 18 percent owner, made more than three-quarters of its sales to shell companies that paid in cash. BuzzFeed News is careful to note, however, that their reporting also "examined non-Trump buildings in Manhattan and South Florida and found that roughly the same percentage of units were sold to shell companies in all-cash transactions as in Trump buildings."

In 2015, a New York Times investigation estimated that "nearly half of the most expensive residential properties in the United States are now purchased anonymously through shell companies." However, as some have pointed out, those other properties notably do not have the name of the president of the United States attached to them.

This is not the first time purchases at Trump developed or licensed condos have raised suspicions. Former Panamanian financial crimes prosecutor Mauricio Ceballos told NBC News and Reuters that the Trump Ocean Club in Panama City is "a vehicle for money laundering." Writing for The Week, Paul Waldman observes that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has "made a point of hiring a number of lawyers for his team who have expertise in money laundering and other financial crimes." Mueller is reportedly looking into "Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings," Bloomberg News writes.

Read more about Trump property sales at BuzzFeed News. Jeva Lange

December 5, 2017

Put your money where your mouth is, the challenge goes — and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) is doing just that. Flake tweeted Tuesday that he was making a personal donation of $100 to Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Alabama:

Jones is fighting to win the Alabama seat against Republican Roy Moore, who stands accused by multiple women of conducting inappropriate sexual relationships with them while they were teenagers and he was a district attorney in his early 30s. One of Moore's accusers says he groped her when she was just 14, while another says he tried to sexually assault her in the parking lot of a restaurant when she was 16.

After the allegations were reported by The Washington Post, the White House and other top Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (Wis.) distanced themselves from Moore. But on Monday, President Trump reversed course, calling Moore to offer his endorsement; the Republican National Committee quickly followed suit by reinvesting money and staff into Moore's campaign just weeks after withdrawing support.

On Monday, Flake, who is not running for re-election, broke from his party colleagues, tweeting, "A Roy Moore victory is no victory for the GOP and the nation." Alabama's special election is Dec. 12, and Real Clear Politics currently shows Moore leading Jones by an average of 1.5 percentage points. Kimberly Alters

November 25, 2017
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Amazon founder Jeff Bezos saw his net worth top $100 billion after Amazon stock, of which Bezos is the single largest owner, climbed 2.5 percent on Black Friday. The bump earned Bezos $2.4 billion on Friday alone.

Microsoft's Bill Gates was the first person to reach $100 billion in 1999. By Bloomberg's count, Bezos is the richest person in the world and the only individual to currently boast a 12-figure fortune, as Gates, in second place, now has a mere $89 billion to his name.

Bezos' gain is part of a larger story of how online shopping continues to eat up market share. Shoppers dropped $640 million online Friday by 10 a.m. Eastern, an 18 percent increase over Black Friday 2016. Investment banking firm Jefferies found only only 13 percent of customers said they'd be spending more on Black Friday this year, compared to 17 percent last year, indicating that more people are shopping online throughout the month than on just one day. Bonnie Kristian

November 6, 2017
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As House Republicans finalize their tax reform plan this week, their colleagues in some blue states remain wary of the bill's elimination of certain deductions. Republicans have proposed offsetting the $2 trillion in cuts outlined in their bill by tweaking certain deductions, which would raise $1 trillion in revenue over 10 years, The New York Times reports.

Policies under the knife include the federal deduction for property taxes in New Jersey, the deduction for state and local income taxes, and the mortgage interest deduction. The GOP plan proposes capping the federal deduction for property taxes in the Garden State at $10,000 as well as restricting the mortgage interest deduction only loans up to $500,000, The New York Times explains.

In the case of the state and local tax rule, one-third of New Jersey taxpayers claim that deduction. California and New York alone account for nearly one-third of the value claimed under that deduction nationwide. "I view it as a geographic redistribution of wealth," said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.). "You're taking more money from a state like New York, to pay for a deeper tax cut elsewhere.

The House plans to pass its bill by the end of the week. The Senate is working on its own version of a tax overhaul and is expected to release the bill in the coming days. Read more about the GOP's blue-state conundrum at The New York Times. Kimberly Alters

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