Posts tagged with "NBC News"

Amazon backs out of deal for New York City corporate campus

February 18, 2019

Following  three months of sustained opposition from state and local officials, Amazon has cancelled its plan to build a new campus across the East River from Manhattan — and, in the process, withdrawn the offer of 25,000 jobs that the move might have brought to New York City, NBC News reported on February 14..

Among those who fought the plan was high-profile Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D- 14th District, New York) whose district abuts the area in Long Island City where the new Amazon headquarters would have been located.

“It wasn’t any one incident,” Jodi Seth, the head of Policy Communications for Amazon, told the network last Thursday in an interview. “It was that the environment over the course of the past three months had not got any better. There were some local and state elected officials who refused to meet with Amazon and criticized us day in and day out about the plan.”

Seth said it came down to a long-term environment that Amazon did not care to work in, in part because different politicians put forward different reasons for opposing the project.

“If you talk to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it’s ‘Never Amazon,'” Seth said. “If you talk to [New York City Councilman Jimmy] Van Bramer, [whose district is in Queens], it’s unions.” (New York is still a heavily unionized town, and Amazon’s opposition to unions was frequently cited by those who fought the project.)

According to NBC News, the main frustration for opponents of Amazon’s project was the $3 billion that the company had been awarded in state and city incentives — a cost that opponents said would have been paid for by New York residents. Many also feared that the move would lead to gentrification and higher housing prices.

And a number of residents of the neighborhood protested that the already overcrowded subway and bus transportation systems could not handle the additional onslaught of commuters.

Conversely, small business owners were unhappy with the decision because they had welcomed the extra business it would bring to the area.

Following Amazon’s announcement, Ocasio-Cortez commended “dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors” for defeating “Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world” on her Twitter site.

Champions of the deal, including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, said that the creation of those 25,000 new jobs, plus revenue from property taxes, corporate taxes, and personal income taxes, would have benefited Long Island City and New York in the long term.

In a statement Thursday, Cuomo criticized the “small group of politicians” who opposed the headquarters and put their own “narrow interests above their community.”

Even with support from some officials, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his team concluded that it wasn’t worth sticking around for the fight, NBC News reported. Seth noted that a vote on the move by the State Public Authorities Control Board the State Public Authorities Control Board wasn’t scheduled until April or May 2020.

“We wouldn’t have even known if the deal would be approved until a year from now,” she said. “We were pretty confident the deal would be approved, in that the governor was working hard to make it happen, but looking at the opposition and the timeline we decided we don’t want to work in this environment in the long term.”

Amazon offered no plan to find another headquarters in the area, and Seth told the TV network that Amazon has no intention of re-opening talks with New York state and local

Research contact: @DylanByers

Under new U.S. tax code, average family’s refund is down by 8.4%

February 14, 2019

The first tax season under President Donald Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is under way—and early filers are saying “Where’s my refund?” according to an NBC News report.

While the White House promised in October 2017, while it was pushing for passage of the law, that the average family “would get a $4,000 raise,” now some taxpayers are discovering that the tax man giveth—but also taketh away. And that’s especially true as it pertains to their annual refund, the network news outlet says.

The average refund this year is down by 8.4%, to $1,865, for the week ending February 1, according to data from the Internal Revenue Service. At that time, the IRS said, the agency already had processed about 16  million returns—down from the 18 million it had received and processed at the same time last year.  That’s down 12.4% from the first week of last year’s tax season.

In a news release on February 8, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said “filing season has successfully launched with millions of tax returns having been filed.”

Early filers vented their frustrations on Twitter, using the hashtag #GOPTaxScam.

“Last year I was able to get $2700 on tax returns but all my deductions are gone this year and was a net-$350. Only saving grace was increased child tax credit which kept my refund in the positive,” wrote @dexternights.

Indeed, the plan, which Trump said would simplify the tax code, also got rid of many deductions that working class Americans relied on to lower their tax bills—among them, home equity loan interest, moving expenses;and certain job costs, including licensing and regulatory fees.

Research contact: @AlyssaNewcomb 

Who do you trust? Trump claims a wall made El Paso safe; Mayor Margo disagrees

February 12, 2019

As President Donald Trump confirmed plans for a Monday night rally in El Paso, Texas, the city’s mayor, Dee Margo, asserted that the lower incidence of crime that the area has enjoyed in recent years has not been the direct result of fencing at the southern border.

The president is expected to exhort his base for a wall at what amounts to a major campaign event—being held just days ahead of the deadline for Congress to hammer out a deal on the budget and border security, NBC News reported on February 11.

“The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime—one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities,” Trump said in his State of the Union Address on February 6 “Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.”

But the statistics don’t back him up. Mayor Margo notes. According to law enforcement data, the city had low crime rates well before a border barrier was constructed between 2008 and mid-2009.

Indeed, NBC News reports, violent crime has been dropping in El Paso since its modern-day peak in 1993 and was at historic lows before a fence was authorized by Congress in 2006. Violent crime actually ticked up during the border fence’s construction and after its completion, according to police data collected by the FBI.

Democratic officials immediately took issue with the picture Trump painted, saying the president was using their city to justify a pointless and unnecessary wall.

“The facts are clear. While it is true that El Paso is one of the safest cities in the nation, it has never been ‘…considered one of our Nation’s most dangerous cities,'” the city’s sheriff, Richard Wiles, a Democrat, said in a statement after Trump concluded his address. “And, El Paso was a safe city long before any wall was built.”

“I believe he was given some misinformation,” Mayor Margo told CNN in an interview, adding the idea that El Paso was a lawless and dangerous place before fencing was built is “not factually correct.”

Margo said he’d correct the president if he reiterated falsehoods about El Paso on Monday. “The geography of Texas won’t allow a fence from El Paso to Brownsville even if you wanted to do it,” Margo said.

When pressed on the inaccuracy of the president’s claims, the White House said the high rate of crime in the city directly across the border—Juarez—proved that the barrier was responsible for the low crime rate in El Paso.

Research contact: @janestreet

House Dems to probe Trump White House security clearance process

January 24, 2019

House Democratic investigators formally launched a probe on January 23 into how the White House “finessed” security clearances for staffers, including those for short-term National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Senior Adviser (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner—accusing the Trump administration of playing fast-and-loose with the nation’s most guarded secrets, according to a report by Politico.

Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) laid out several lines of inquiry on the matter in a letter to the White House, specifically naming Flynn and other top officials whom he says should have raised red flags.

“The Committee on Oversight and Reform is launching an in-depth investigation of the security clearance process at the White House and Transition Team in response to grave breaches of national security at the highest levels of the Trump administration,” Cummings aid in the letter to the White House, obtained by NBC News.

The panel will press the White House to provide Congress with information about how and why it issued some security clearances, which Democrats note is required under federal law, Politico said. Democrats say the White House has so far refused to provided that information. Several inquiries on the same issue went unanswered by the administration last year.

The goals of this investigation are to determine why the White House and Transition Team appear to have disregarded established procedures for safeguarding classified information, evaluate the extent to which the nation’s most highly guarded secrets were provided to officials who should not have had access to them, and develop reforms to remedy the flaws in current White House systems and practices,” Cummings wrote.

Cummings specifically cited former Chief of Staff John Kelly’s acknowledgment of “shortcomings” in the security clearance process — and Kelly’s statement that the Trump administration “take a hard look” at how the White House handles clearances, Politico reported.

In addition to Flynn and Kushner, Cummings is requesting information on any problems or issues that arose in the security clearance processes for multiple individuals, including: former Deputy National Security adviser K.T. McFarland; National Security Adviser John Bolton; Rob Porter, the ex-White House staff secretary who left amid allegations of spousal abuse; former National Security Council Senior Director Robin Townley; and ex-deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka.

Research contact: @rachaelmbade

In wall-funding ‘go-around,’ Trump could glom billions from disaster relief funds

January 14, 2019

President Donald Trump has been briefed on a plan that would use the Army Corps of Engineers and a huge chunk of change from the $13.9 billion of Army Corps budget to build 315 miles of barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to three U.S. officials with knowledge of the situation, NBC News reports.

The money had been set aside to fund disaster recovery nationwide—including providing government backing to rebuild infrastructure in storm-damaged areas of Puerto Rico through fiscal year 2020.

However, those the checks have not been written yet and, under a national emergency declaration, the president could take the money from these high-priority civil works projects and use it to build the border wall, officials familiar with the briefing, as well as two congressional sources, told the network news outlet.

The plan could be implemented if Trump declares a national emergency in order to build the wall and would use more money and build more miles than the administration has requested from Congress. The president had requested $5.7 billion for a wall stretching 234 miles.

Under the proposal, the sources told NBC News, Trump could dip into the $2.4 billion allocated to projects in California, including flood prevention and protection projects along the Yuba River Basin and the Folsom Dam; as well as the $2.5 billion set aside for reconstruction projects in Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from Hurricane Maria.J

Senior Defense Department officials discussed the proposal with Trump during his January 10 flight to the southern border, according to officials familiar with the briefing.

Trump was informed that the Army Corps could build 315 miles of border wall in about 18 months, according to officials familiar with the planning. The barrier would be a 30-foot bollard-style wall with a feature designed to prevent climbing, the officials said.

A source on Capitol Hill told the network that, if the president moves to pull money from Corps of Engineers civil works projects, Democrats in Congress are likely to submit legislation to block the money from being reallocated.

Research contact: @ckubeNBC

Deputy AG Rosenstein to depart DOJ following wrap-up of Russia probe

January 10, 2019

With a new AG pick expected to face confirmation hearings starting next week, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—who has been riding herd on the Russia probe (and taking the heat for it) since Jeff Sessions recused himself back in 2017—is planning to step down, NBC News reports.

Rosenstein long had intended to serve just about two years as the Justice Department’s number-two official, contacts in the know told the network news outlet. They assert that this is his own plan—and that he is not being forced out by the White House, although there certainly is no love lost there.

After demanding and receiving Sessions’ resignation in November , President Donald Trump nominated William Barr, who planned to be at the Capitol this week for a round of courtesy calls with senators ahead of his confirmation process, which starts on January 15.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders commented to Fox News: “I don’t think there’s any willingness by the president or the White House to push him out …. My guess is he is making room for the new attorney general to build a team that he wants around him.”

Rosenstein’s intentions were first reported by ABC News. He did not respond to questions on Wednesday morning.

ABC News also reported on January 9 that the president’s nominee for attorney general, William Barr, said he doesn’t think that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is on a “witch hunt,” doesn’t think he should be fired and is committed to making sure that Mueller finishes his investigation, according to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina).

Research contact: @PeteWilliamsNBC

Clarification: Late on January 9, NBC News reported that “a source close to Rosestein [had] said he intends to stay on until Mueller’s investigative and prosecutorial work id done. The source said that would mean Rosenstein would remain until early March.”

Beyond the point of no returns: Get Trump’s tax forms, progressive group tells House Dems

January 7, 2019

Americans for Tax Fairness—a coalition of more than 325 national, state, and local organizations that support progressive tax reform—reminded Democratic Congressional leaders this week about the “urgency of obtaining and publicly releasing President [Donald] Trump’s tax returns,” reminding them that “he broke decades of precedent and his own repeated promises by not making them public.

The group argued that Trump’s returns could shed light on “the complex financial structures and tax loopholes used by the wealthy.” They also believe the returns to be “the best source of answers to vital questions about Donald Trump’s presidency—including whether there are any conflicts of interest and/or foreign influences that could be adversely affecting his exercise of official duties.”

In fact, in a new 21-page white paper obtained by NBC News, the group—which the network describes as “a left-leaning organization backed by organized labor”— said that securing Trump’s tax returns “is an important public policy objective and a legitimate exercise of Congress’s oversight authority.”

As NBC News reported last month, Democrats plan to use a 1924 law26 U.S. Code § 6103—to compel Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to turn over Trump’s tax records to Representative Richard Neal (D-Massachusetts), the newly designated chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The law appears to allow the committee to vote to make the returns public. Democrats say they expect that Mnuchin will not hand over the returns without a court fight, however.

Trump is the only major party nominee in the past four decades—other than President Gerald Ford— not to release his tax returns—and Ford released summaries of his returns. Trump has said he won’t release them because he is under audit.

House Democrats are pushing legislation that would require presidential candidates to release a decade of tax returns, aides told NBC News, but that bill’s chances of becoming law are uncertain.

The returns also are likely to provide information relevant to whether Trump’s public actions enhanced his private wealth, particularly in relation to his luxury Trump International hotel a few blocks from the White House, the report obtained by NBC News noted.

“The president has shown inexplicable deference to the leaders of foreign powers in conflict with the United States, including Russia and Saudi Arabia, raising the possibility that his business connections in those countries are influencing his conduct of American foreign policy and threatening national security,” the report says. “His tax returns and those of his business entities could provide evidence of foreign business connections that jeopardize his independence.”

“Obtaining the president’s tax returns is not some fishing expedition,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness. “The public has a right to know if the policies the president advocates are what he believes are in the best interest of the country or in the best interest of his personal finances.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment by NBC News.

Legal experts tell NBC News that Special Counsel Robert Mueller almost certainly already has obtained President Trump’s tax returns and other private business information as part of his investigation into whether Trump or his campaign coordinated with the 2016 Russian election interference operation.

But Mueller would not be able to make that information public unless it was relevant to a criminal case.

Research contact: @KenDilanianNBCAmericans

I’ll be ‘loam’ for Xmas: Washington State considers ‘recomposition’ as burial alternative

January 2, 2018

It’s not “dirt cheap”—but it is less expensive than either burial or cremation. It’s also less damaging to the environment, which is probably among the reasons that the trend is starting on the West Coast.

Washington could soon become the first state to allow another after-death option: human composting, according to a report by NBC News.

The innovative approach, known as “recomposition,” involves placing bodies in a vessel and hastening their decomposition into a nutrient-dense soil that can then be returned to families. The aim is a less expensive way of dealing with human remains that is better for the environment than burial, which can leach chemicals into the ground, or cremation, which releases earth-warming carbon dioxide.

“People from all over the state who wrote to me are very excited about the prospect of becoming a tree or having a different alternative for themselves,” State Senator Jamie Pedersen (District 43), a Democrat, who is sponsoring a bill to expand the options for disposing of human remains, told the network news outlet.

 The recomposition bill would make Washington the 17th state to allow alkaline hydrolysis, the dissolving of bodies in a pressurized vessel with water and lye until just liquid and bone remains. Pedersen plans to introduce the bill when the new legislative session begins next month.

Specifically, NBC reports, the somewhat creepy process involves placing unembalmed human remains wrapped in a shroud in a 5-foot-by-10-foot cylindrical vessel with a bed of organic material such as wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. Air is then periodically pulled into the vessel, providing oxygen to accelerate microbial activity. Within approximately one month, the remains are reduced to a cubic yard of compost that can be used to grow new plants.

The safety of the process depends on maintaining a temperature of 131 degrees Fahrenheit for 72 consecutive hours to destroy pathogens. However, some pathogens are known to survive composting so, for the sake of safety people with certain illnesses would be excluded.

Pedersen believes that legalizing recomposition would benefit people who can’t afford a funeral or aren’t comfortable with cremation, NBC reports. Recompose aims to charge $5,500 for its services, while a traditional burial generally cost more than $7,000 in 2017, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. (Cremation can cost less than $1,000, though that doesn’t include a service or an urn.)

Research contact: @teakettle22

Don’t fall for that risk-free trial offer: The average victim loses $186

December 19, 2018

There’s one of us born every minute. We hate to admit that we are suckers, but most of us have—at least once in our lives—been bamboozled into sending for a sample of a miracle product (acne cure, wrinkle eraser, hair remover) in the belief that we are paying only for shipping costs.

In many cases, says a December 18 story from NBC News, these ads (which are all over the Internet, as well as our TV screens) offer a “risk-free” trial that works something like this: Try a free bottle of our revolutionary supplement. All you pay is $4.95 for shipping and handling on your credit card. If you are not completely satisfied, just cancel and there’s nothing more to pay.

“Many of these risk-free trial offers are not free,” the Better Business Bureau warns in a just-released report. In many cases, there are strings attached, so you could wind up being charged for products you don’t want and didn’t order—or joining a “club” that bills you every month.

Indeed, the Better Business Bureau’s in-depth investigative study found that, if you were to locate and read the fine print on the order page, or the terms and conditions buried by a link, you would discover that you may have only 14 days to receive, evaluate, and return the product to avoid being charged $100 or more.

In addition, the same hidden information may state that, by accepting the offer, you’ve also signed up for monthly shipments of the products that will be charged to your credit card and become subscription traps. Many people find it difficult to contact the seller to stop recurring charges, halt shipments, and get a refund.

What’s more, the study found that many of the celebrity endorsements are fake. Dozens of celebrity names are used by these frauds without their knowledge or permission—among them, Oprah Winfrey, Chrissy Teigen, and Ellen Degeneres. Sometimes the fine print even admits these endorsements are not real.

That’s why the Bureau urges consumers to use “extreme caution” before agreeing to a risk-free trial that requires you to provide the company with a credit or debit card number to pay for shipping/handling charges. (Warning: Consumer experts advise against using a debit card to pay for online or phone purchases with unknown companies. If there is a problem, credit cards provide much greater fraud protection.)

The BBB investigation into fake free trial offers highlights a serious and growing problem. Among the key findings:

  • The BBB received nearly 37,000 complaints about free trial offers during the last three years.
  • Not every complaint involved a monetary loss, but for those that did, the average loss was $186.
  • Complaints to the Federal Trade Commission about these offers more than doubled between 2015 and 2017. Victims involved in 14 free trial offer cases resolved by the FTC during the last 10 years lost more than $1.3 billion.

“Fraudsters have created a global multi-billion-dollar industry that has ripped off millions of people based on false and deceptive advertising related to fake risk-free trial offers,” BBB International Investigations Specialist Steve Baker, who prepared the report, told NBC News.

The best advice: Before you sign up for a little sample of an unknown product that promises “miraculous results” from a company you’ve never heard of before, ask yourself: Do I really want to give them my credit or debit card number? Is it really worth the potential hassle, if this is a fake offer? You already know the answer.

Research contact:@TheConsumerman

Obama aides say Beto is ‘heir’ to Barack

December 4, 2018

It’s “déjà vu all over again,” for President Barack Obama’s former aides—who are saying that Beto O’Rourke’s campaign against Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in the midterms gave them flashbacks to their own candidate’s precocious political rise, according to a December 2 report by NBC News.

Indeed, according to the network news outlet, the closely fought campaign by the charismatic and youthful Democratic white congressman—who serves Texas’ 16th District— has catapulted him to the position of unlikely heir to the first black president’s “hope and change” mantle.

Obama, himself, said as much, CNN reported, at an event in Chicago in late November, noting, “What I like most about his race was that it didn’t feel constantly poll-tested. It felt as if he based his statements and his positions on what he believed. And that, you’d like to think, is normally how things work. Sadly, it’s not.”

Already, some of #44’s former political lieutenants have been publicly encouraging O’Rourke to consider a 2020 presidential bid; while privately counseling him on what to expect, should he jump in.

And it looks as if he’s willing: O’Rourke said on November 26  that he would prefer to finish his congressional term January 3 before deciding what’s next. But that’s a far cry from repeatedly saying during the Senate campaign that he had no White House aspirations whatsoever.

In O’Rourke, NBC News reported, Obama veterans see not only an inspiring political celebrity, but, like Obama, a tactical innovator who eschewed the political industrial complex of pollsters and consultants; and used technology in new ways to connect directly with supporters and multiply the force of his fundraising and ground game.

“The reason I was able to make a connection with a sizable portion of the country was because people had a sense that I said what I meant,” Obama told his former strategist David Axelrod during an interview last week, adding that O’Rourke has that same quality.

O’Rourke has received invitations to speak to Democratic groups in early presidential states like Iowa and New Hampshire, but has yet to accept them,  a former senior adviser to his campaign told the network.

“We’ve had a lot of former Obama alumni saying: ‘If we can be helpful as you think about this, let us know. If you want our perspective on what it’s like to run a national campaign, let us know,'” said the former O’Rourke aide, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity.

And a new group, co-founded by a former Obama field organizer, has been created to attempt to draft O’Rourke into the presidential race. “Beto has a special ability—like President Obama did—to make people believe in the best version of America,” Lauren Pardi, who worked on Obama’s campaign in New Hampshire, told the network news outlet.

It may not be reaching too far to predict that, along with having the same initials in their names—Barack O’Bama, Beto O’Rourke—they may enjoy the same political destiny.

Research contact: @aseitzwald