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Wednesday
May202015

Major Banks Plead Guilty to Criminal Acts in Currency Fixing

Four of the banks - JPMorgan, Barclays, Citigroup and RBS - have agreed to plead guilty to US criminal charges.

The fifth, UBS, will plead guilty to rigging benchmark interest rates.

Barclays was fined the most, $2.4bn, as it did not join other banks in November to settle investigations by UK, US and Swiss regulators.

Barclays is also sacking eight employees involved in the scheme.

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that "almost every day" for five years from 2007, currency traders used a private electronic chat room to manipulate exchange rates.

Their actions harmed "countless consumers, investors and institutions around the world", she said.

Separately, the Federal Reserve fined a sixth bank, Bank of America, $205m over foreign exchange-rigging. All the other banks were fined by both the Department of Justice and the Federal Reserve.

Regulators said that between 2008 and 2012, several traders formed a cartel and used chat rooms to manipulate prices in their favour.

One Barclays trader who was invited to join the cartel was told: "Mess up and sleep with one eye open at night."

Several strategies were used to manipulate prices and a common scheme was to influence prices around the daily fixing of currency levels.

A daily exchange rate fix is held to help businesses and investors value their multi-currency assets and liabilities.

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said traders had colluded for five years

Until February, this happened every day in the 30 seconds before and after 16:00 in London and the result is known as the 4pm fix, or just the fix.

In a scheme known as "building ammo", a single trader would amass a large position in a currency and, just before or during the fix, would exit that position.

Other members of the cartel would be aware of the plan and would be able to profit.

"They engaged in a brazen 'heads I win, tails you lose' scheme to rip off their clients," said New York State superintendent of financial services Benjamin Lawsky.

The fines break a number of records. The criminal fines of more than $2.5bn are the largest set of anti-trust fines obtained by the Department of Justice.

The £284m fine imposed on Barclays by Britain's Financial Conduct Authority was a record by the regulator.

Meanwhile, the $925m fine imposed on Citigroup by the Department of Justice was the biggest penalty for breaking the Sherman Act, which covers competition law.

The guilty pleas from the banks are seen as highly significant as banks have settled previous investigations without an admission of guilt.

The Attorney General warned that further wrongdoing would taken extremely seriously: "The Department of Justice will not hesitate to file criminal charges for financial institutions that reoffend.

"Banks that cannot or will not clean up their act need to understand - it will be enforced."

Full Story Here

Wednesday
May202015

Gowdy Subpoenas Blumenthal in Benghazi Case

Congressional investigators have issued a subpoena demanding that former Clinton White House adviser Sidney Blumenthal testify next month before the US House of Representatives committee investigating the 2012 attack on US diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.

The subpoena, a copy of which was made available to Reuters, demands that Blumenthal appear before the House committee on June 3 to give a deposition. The subpoena is dated Monday but carries a notation indicating an unnamed deputy US marshal served it on Blumenthal’s wife on Tuesday.

The copy of the subpoena contains no further details about the subject matter of the deposition.

“I can confirm Mr Blumenthal has been called for a deposition by the committee,” Jamal Ware, a spokesman for Republican representative Trey Gowdy, the Benghazi committee chairman, said in response to a Reuters query.

More than two years ago, a set of emails sent by Blumenthal to Hillary Clinton while she served as secretary of state were posted on the internet by a hacker who called himself Guccifer. Blumenthal did not work for Clinton when she was secretary of state and sent those emails as a private individual.

The emails included detailed private intelligence reports on events in Libya sent to Blumenthal by Tyler Drumheller, a former senior CIA officer. Some of the emails were sent around the time of the Benghazi attacks and discussed information Drumheller’s sources gave him about the attack.

Full Story Here

Wednesday
May202015

Hundreds of Tech Companies Oppose TPP

More than 250 tech companies have signed a letter demanding greater transparency from Congress and decrying the broad regulatory language in leaked parts of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade bill.

The TPP would create an environment hostile to journalists and whistleblowers, said policy directors for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Fight for the Future, co-authors of the letter. “TPP’s trade secrets provisions could make it a crime for people to reveal corporate wrongdoing ‘through a computer system’,” says the letter. “The language is dangerously vague, and enables signatory countries to enact rules that would ban reporting on timely, critical issues affecting the public.”

Among the signatories are activist, sci-fi author and Guardian tech columnist Cory Doctorow. “Democracies make their laws in public, not in smoke-filled rooms,” Doctorow wrote. “If TPP’s backers truly believed that they were doing the people’s work, they’d have invited the people into the room. The fact that they went to extreme, unprecedented measures to stop anyone from finding out what was going on – even going so far as to threaten Congress with jail if they spoke about it – tells you that this is something being done *to* Americans, not *for* Americans.”

Also on the list were prominent members of the open source community, including David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of the popular Ruby on Rails web development framework, image hosting company Imgur and domain name manager Namecheap.

There was a notable absence from the letter of big, international tech companies like Apple, Google and Facebook. Apple and AT&T are part of the president’s International Trade Advisory Committee (which advises the Oval Office on matters relating to industry) and their representatives have presumably been able to read sections of the bill that would apply to their industry.

The letter’s signatories also criticized the fast-track bill – known as the Trade Promotion Authority – which is being discussed in Congress this week. If passed, the TPA would give Obama a yes or no vote on the trade pact without the ability for legislators to amend it. The fast-track bill needs to be passed to even give the TPP a shot at approval.

TPP has sparked a growing row within the Democrat party. Senator Elizabeth Warren renewed her attack on the pact this week, issuing a scathing report on past trade deals.

Full Story Here

Wednesday
May202015

Christian Coalition Seeks to End Payday/Title Load Lending

Faith for Just Lending, a new coalition of Christian groups representing different parts of the political spectrum, was formed to advocate for the elimination of unjust lending practices that hurt the poor.

"Payday lending is a form of economic predation and grinds the faces of the poor into the ground," said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

"As Christians," he continued, "we are called by Jesus, by the prophets, and by the apostles to care for the poor, individually, and also about the way social and political and corporate structures contribute to the misery of the impoverished. Groups across this diverse coalition don't agree on every issue in the public square, but I am happy to work together on this issue to stand against unchecked usury and work for economic justice, human dignity and family stability."

Besides the ERLC, the coalition includes the Center for Public Justice, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Ecumenical Poverty Initiative, National Association of Evangelicals, National Baptist Convention USA, National Latino Evangelical Coalition, and Pico National Network.

Full Story Here

There are 20,000 payday and car title loan stores nationwide and many of them offer loans at 300 percent APR, according to a Faith for Just Lending press release. Poor families that use these services can easily become trapped in a cycle of debt.

Wednesday
May202015

S.C. Approves Bill Banning Abortions After 20 Weeks

After the South Carolina state House approved a pro-life bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks, because research shows unborn children can feel intense pain, the Senate has followed suit.

Called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H3114) the measure received an 80-27 vote in the House and, late Monday, the state Senate approved the measure. More than 18,000 ‘very late term’ abortions are performed every year on perfectly healthy unborn babies in America.

The South Carolina Senate gave second reading to a heavily amended Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H 3114) Tuesday. Final passage is expected Wednesday. The vote was 37-7. Upon Senate passage, the bill returns to the South Carolina House for further consideration of the adopted bill.

“We see this as an important vote today to continue toward passage of a pain-capable bill in South Carolina,” said Lisa Van Riper, President of South Carolina Citizens for Life. “We are working toward the day when no child will be subjected to the extreme pain of abortion at 20 weeks she enters the sixth month of life” in the womb.”

During House consideration, experts talked about unborn children and the pain they feel in abortions.

Dr. Stuart Hamilton, M.D., a Columbia University trained pediatrician and long-time supporter of pro-life legislation, described fetal development for members of the committee. He said he agrees with scientific research demonstrating the unborn child can feel pain at 20 weeks after fertilization.

Tuesday
May192015

Council Rejects Mammoth Subdivision Project Near Midway Road

Anderson County Council on Tuesday night rejected a planned 301-house subdivision on 103 acres at the corner of Crestview Road and Harriet Circle in Anderson. Council voted 6-1 to reject the plan, with the majority saying the project was not in keeping with the area. 

Council rejected the requested changes to the proposed mammoth housing project, tentatively called The Village at Bailey Creek, which would have allowed three houses per acre in each of the three stages of the subdivision's proposed development. 

Council questioned the details of the project, citing the issues of such a large subdivision project with such small lot sizes, the proposed building materials, the proposal to build on slabs and various other issues.

“We’re still not there on the ambiance of these houses,” said Anderson County Councilman Francis Crowder said. “We are committed to making 81 the gateway to Anderson County and not allowing it to become another Clemson Boulevard. "We are also committed to acceptable residential housing of the quality in this area as well."

Mark III Properties and developer John Beeson, which had requested the changes said the project would generate an economic impact of $75 million.

“Comparing this project to an economic development project is a little erroneous,” said Crowder, adding the general tendencies of track home builders is not to use local contractors.

Mark III Properties and developer John Beeson, which had requested the changes said the project would generate an economic impact of $75 million. 

“Comparing this project to an economic development project is a little erroneous,” said Anderson County Councilman Francis Crowder. Crowder said the general tendencies of track home builders is not to use local contractors.

“The neighborhood and community board voted this down 2-1,” said Anderson County Council Chairman Tommy Dunn. Dunn added that the planning commission’s guidelines are also at odds with the proposal.

On Tuesday night, council also approved on second reading a S.C. 81 North Overlay Comprehensive Plan, which seeks to strategically plan growth on S.C. 81 North leading into Anderson. 

The area  includes “all zoned properties or portions of properties that are within 500 feet of the centerline of Highway 81, and directly access Highway 81; bounded to the northwest by the centerline of Scotts Bridge Road, to the northeast by the centerline of Long Road, and to the south by the centerline of Reed Road.” The plan calls for a consistent and efficient pattern of growth, permanent building materials (brick, stone, wood), no electronic signs, restricted lighting, and the county’s most restrictive Type 6 bufferyard.

Council also gave Anderson County Administrator Rusty Burns the authority to entertain interim contracts to ensure all residens of the county are covered by emergency medical services.

Earlier, council honored the Palmetto High School Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps for receiving the 2014 - 2015 Distinguished Unit Award.

Tuesday
May192015

S.C. Domestic Violence Task Force Says Data is Poor

A task force studying South Carolina's domestic violence problem says its efforts are made tougher because of poor data collection. The governor's task force met Tuesday to report its progress.

Corrections Department researcher Charles Bradberry says the state's system of reporting data through incident reports can present faulty data when crimes are not reported as domestic violence or sections of the report about the relationship between the suspect and victim are not filled out.

Richland County had the state's highest crime rate in 2012, but its domestic violence rate was 41st out of 46 counties. Bradberry says that doesn't make sense.

A survey of police agencies in South Carolina found almost half do not follow a checklist of what to do on domestic violence calls.

Tuesday
May192015

S.C. Honors Teachers Who Fought 1956 Anti-NAACP Law

The South Carolina Senate is going to honor 21 black Orangeburg County teachers who resigned their jobs in 1956 to protest a law that prevented state employees from being members of the NAACP.

Sen. John Matthews said the group called the "Elloree 21" is scheduled to be in the Senate chambers at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Democrat from Orangeburg says they changed the course of history through their protests.

The teachers brought national attention to a law passed by the South Carolina Legislature in 1956 preventing state employees like teachers from belonging to the NAACP. Lawmakers were unhappy the civil rights organization was fighting for integration.

The protests brought so much attention the General Assembly repealed the law the next year.

Tuesday
May192015

Hillary Emails Won't be Released Until Jan. 2016

The State Department has set itself a deadline of January next year to release 55,000 pages of emails sent from a private account by Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state.

The longer-than-expected timetable will mean the emails, which have marred the launch of Clinton’s presidential campaign, will not be released until just before the first key events of the presidential nomination process – the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary.

Clinton handed over 30,000 work-related emails to the State Department in December 2014, but she held back as many other emails that her lawyers said were private.

In March, Clinton said she wanted the public to see the emails and that the State Department would release them as soon as possible. At the time, it said the process of releasing the emails would take several months.

Explaining why the release of the emails would not be completed until January, an official in charge of Freedom of Information Act (Foia) requests said the content of the messages “presents several challenges”.

In a legal document filed on Monday in an Foia lawsuit launched by Vice News, John Hackett, the State Department’s director of information programs, said: “The department understands the considerable public interest in these records and is endeavoring to complete the review and production of them as expeditiously as possible. The collection is, however, voluminous and, due to the breadth of topics, the nature of the communications, and the interests of several agencies, presents several challenges.”

It added: “Given the breadth and importance of the many foreign policy issues on which the secretary of state and the department work, the review of these materials will likely require consultation with a broad range of subject matter experts within the department and other agencies, as well as potentially with foreign governments.

“The department is committed to processing the 55,000 pages as expeditiously as possible, while taking into consideration the department’s other legal obligations.”

Separately, the department has confirmed it will soon release Clinton’s emails about Libya, including the controversial attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, which resulted in the killing of four Americans, including the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens.

Clinton’s admission that she conducted official business on a private email account has been heavily criticised, and her decision to hold back private emails has been greeted with suspicion.

The Sunlight Foundation, which campaigns for open data, said: “There is shock at what Secretary Clinton did because the most likely explanation of her intent seems clear – she created a system designed to avoid accountability, potentially in violation of the law.”

Tuesday
May192015

High Court Strikes Down Maryland's Double Taxation

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that Maryland's income tax law, allowing the state to double-tax residents who pay income tax in a different state where they work, is unconstitutional.

The court ruled with a divided five to four vote on Monday to uphold the Maryland Court of Appeal's 2013 ruling that said the tax law wrongly exposes Maryland residents to double taxation because it does not provide full tax credit for residents who also pay income taxes where they work.

In most states, people are taxed both where they work and where they live, but they receive a full income tax credit for out-of-state earnings.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the court's opinion, who said the Maryland's tax law forced some residents to pay income taxes to more than one jurisdiction.

"The effect of this scheme is that some of the income earned by Maryland residents outside the state is taxed twice," Alito said. "Maryland's scheme creates an incentive for taxpayers to opt for intrastate rather than interstate economic activity."

He noted that states cannot tax non-resident's income accummulated within the state unless a full credit is given for income residents earn outside the state.

Full Story Here

Monday
May182015

Reminder: Litter Summit Set for Wednesday at Civic Center

In response to the 2014 American State Litter Scorecard naming South Carolina the dirtiest state, Anderson County is encouraging residents and county officials to attend the 2015 Litter Summit, Wednesday at the Civic Center of Anderson, 9 a.m.-noon. The cost of litter, litter enforcement, illegal signs, and litter pick-up safety will be discussed. Our goal is to keep Anderson County clean and pristine for our future by working side-by-side. A change in our county’s culture and mindset is the only way to foster a litter-free county. 

In addition to the summit, Anderson County will initiate a county-wide litter cleanup on May 30th, 8am-1pm. Volunteers will have the choice to cleanup a road in their community or to choose from the “Dirty Dozen” list. The Dirty Dozen list is below. Cleanup supplies, including gloves, safety vests and trash bags will be provided during the Litter Summit, or volunteers may pick up these supplies at the Solid Waste office located at 731 Michelin Boulevard Anderson, SC 29626. Many hands make for light work and Anderson County needs every hand.
 
For more information contact sjburdette@andersoncountysc.org
 
Anderson's Dirty Dozen Roads: Belhaven Rd. (S-10-0474), Lewis St. (S-09-0047), Monitor Dr. (C-09-0304), Courtney St. Ext. (S-04-055), Hwy 29 North and South (US-04-0029), High Shoals Rd.
(S-15-0152A), Middleton Rd. (S-15-0108), Amity Rd. (S-10-0048), Hwy 187 S (SC-04-0187),
Boyd St. (C-09-0190), Due West Hwy (SC-04-0185), Hopewell Rd. (C-06-0015)
 
Additional Communities needing assistance: Shambert Forrest, Old Town New Town, Homeland Park

Monday
May182015

Report: Late Shift Work Could be Unhealthy

Complaints about inadequate sleep schedules from people who work irregular hours may be worth listening to -- late and overnight shifts could be compromising workers' health.

"Shiftwork employees are particularly vulnerable to experiencing sleep problems as their jobs require them to work night, flex, extended, or rotating shifts," Marjory Givens, PhD, an Associate Scientist with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said in a press release. "Shiftworkers are more commonly men, minorities, and individuals with lower educational attainment and typically work in hospital settings, production, or shipping industries."

Researchers found a correlation between irregular shifts and metabolic issues, such as obesity and diabetes. The connection is supported by other studies and research.

While the correlation is not completely understood, researchers said the workers who got less than seven hours of sleep on a regular basis, or maintained a consistently irregular sleep schedule, could correct at least some of the issues they face by having a better sleep schedule.

"More research in this area could inform workplace wellness or healthcare provider interventions on the role of sleep in addressing shiftworker health disparities," Givens said.

The study is published in the Sleep Health.

Monday
May182015

Opinion: Wilson Deserves Praise for Quickly Dropping Merger Plan

By Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer

Anderson County School District Five Superintendent Tom Wilson deserves a round of applause from the community for his quick decision to abandon a plan to merge T.L. Hanna and Westside High Schools.

Wilson, who kicked off an aggressive strategic plan for the school district when he arrived two years ago, pulled the plug because the issue was overshadowing the other plans - including the new career center - and “becoming divisive.”

The proposal, which caught much of the community by surprise when announced last week, did indeed bring out the worst in both the school administration and the public. Social media posts on both sides of the issue were often filled with wildly inaccurate information, condescension, and seemed to be long on heat and short on facts.

In a few, short days a kind of newfound, artificial division had already flared up.

But the events of the last few days also reflect a community that clearly loves its schools. Let’s hope that devotion continues in the form of support for those schools in the days ahead. 

A superintendent’s job is to help chart the strategies for the future of the school district he represents. Wilson has done that so far, with a vision for a career center paid for by a sales tax, better athletic experiences at both high schools and a revised middle school plan. Most parents and students have been more or less on board with these plans.

So when a change as fundamental as merging the district’s two high schools, especially one so poorly delineated and with the caveat it needed to be approved in the next few weeks, Wilson should not have been surprised by the firestorm that erupted.

Presenting a proposal which he believes has merit is his job. But an equal part of his job is responding responsibly to the parents, students and tax payers of the school district when they have concerns.

Wilson did just that Monday, and deserves a round of thanks for his decisive response. The fight could have been extended and ugly, but Wilson’s leadership was spot on in dropping the proposal. The community spoke, he listened.

Both Wilson and critics should find solace in being part of a community that wants the best possible educational experience for all students.

It is also precisely the sort of resolution industries looking at Anderson will find refreshing.