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Council Members Call For More Openness in San Jose's Permit Process

Two San Jose council members say their city makes it too tough on small business owners who want to open shop or expand.

CPUC to File Revised PG&E Penalty

The California Public Utilities Commission is set to file a revised penalty proposal Monday for PG&E’s part in the fatal San Bruno gas line explosion.

State Lawmakers Reach Agreement on Film Tax Credit

California is set to triple the amount of tax breaks it doles out to film productions. The move is aimed at reversing the trend of film production jobs moving to other states that offer larger tax breaks.

Water Bond Heads to November Ballot as Proposition 1

A plan to spend more than $7 billion on water projects across California is on its way to the November ballot. The water bond passed Wednesday night with near-unanimous support from lawmakers and Governor Jerry Brown.

PBS NewsHour

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager resigns

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager is resigning as a result of a scandal involving a presidential campaign he worked for in 2012.

Jesse Benton said Friday he’s stepping down from his top role in the Republican senator’s re-election effort.

Benton calls the decision heartbreaking but the right one to keep the matter from becoming a distraction in Kentucky’s Senate campaign.

His announcement stems from a political scandal in Iowa. This week, a former Iowa lawmaker pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from his switch of support from one Republican presidential candidate to another before the 2012 Iowa caucuses.

Former state Sen. Kent Sorenson received thousands of dollars in “under the table payments” before switching loyalties from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul.

Benton was Paul’s political director at the time.

Benton’s full statement released by the campaign is below:

There is no more important cause for both Kentucky, my new home I have come to love, and our country than electing Mitch McConnell Majority Leader of the United States Senate. I believe this deep in my bones, and I would never allow anything or anyone to get in the way.

That includes myself.

Recently, there have been inaccurate press accounts and unsubstantiated media rumors about me and my role in past campaigns that are politically motivated, unfair and, most importantly, untrue. I hope those who know me recognize that I strive to be a man of integrity.

The press accounts and rumors are particularly hurtful because they are false.
However, what is most troubling to me is that they risk unfairly undermining and becoming a distraction to this reelection campaign.

Working for Mitch McConnell is one of the great honors of my life. He is a friend, a mentor and a great man this commonwealth desperately needs. I cannot, and will not, allow any possibility that my circumstances will effect the voters’ ability to hear his message and assess his record. This election is far too important and the stakes way too high.

With a heavy heart, I offered Sen. McConnell my resignation this afternoon and he reluctantly accepted. Effective Saturday, August 30th, I will no longer be the “Team Mitch” campaign manager.

The good news is that most of my work has been done. We have built a top flight team of incredible people that are working tirelessly to ensure Mitch’s re-election. They are a finely oiled machine and will not skip a beat without me.
This decision breaks my heart, but I know it is the right thing for Mitch, for Kentucky and for the country.

James 16:33
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

The post Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager resigns appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Obama’s immigration delay derails midterm election strategies

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s possible delay in taking action on immigration has thrown advocates and lawmakers from both parties a curveball, barely two months before the midterm elections.

Democrats who were bracing for the impact that Obama’s long-awaited announcement would have on their campaigns are now rethinking aspects of their strategy for the fall. Republicans who were considering legislative attempts to block Obama must reconsider whether that’s the best use of the few remaining work weeks before Election Day.

And immigration advocates, already frustrated by how long it’s taken Obama to act, must decide whether to pressure the president publicly to stop stalling or remain hopeful he’ll give them a favorable outcome in the end.

Obama in June said that by the end of the summer, he’d announce what steps he had decided to take to fix the nation’s immigration system in the absence of a legislative fix from Capitol Hill. But Obama backed away from that deadline on Thursday, and the White House on Friday acknowledged it was possible the decision would slip past the end of summer. It was unclear whether any delay would be a mere matter of weeks or could push the announcement past the November elections.

“The president is determined to take the kinds of steps that are available to him,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. But he added he had no details about when that would happen.

Reluctant to be seen as putting on the brakes for political reasons, White House officials suggested that if the decision slips past summer, it would be because of the situation on the border, not the election. Reluctant to be seen as putting on the brakes for political reasons, White House officials suggested that if the decision slips past summer, it would be because of the situation on the border, not the election.

For months, the Obama administration has been working to stem the surge of unaccompanied minors crossing into the U.S. Those numbers have declined, but officials have said the numbers could creep back up as cooler temperatures arrive in the fall.

The White House has been coy about what options Obama is considering, but much of the focus has centered on steps Obama could take to defer deportations for millions of people in the U.S. illegally, effectively granting them permission to remain and work in the U.S. Republicans say that’s beyond Obama’s authority and even a few endangered Democrats have said Obama should look to Congress to take that step.

For Democrats, who are fighting most of their toughest races this year in conservative-leaning states that are leery of Obama, presidential action has been seen as a likely liability in the election, fueling GOP arguments that Obama is exceeding his authority and that he and Democrats are refusing to enforce immigration laws. Chris Lehane, a California-based Democratic strategist, said the timing of Obama’s action could affect whether voters enthusiastic about immigration show up to vote.

“All of these elections are going to be so laser-tight — 5,000 votes one way or the other — that at some level, what’s out there at the broader, national level at election time could push things over the edge,” Lehane said.

Obama’s timing could affect congressional action on a must-pass spending bill to fund government operations into December. Congress is expected to make that its first order of business when lawmakers return from their summer recess after Labor Day.

A number of Republicans have raised the possibility of using that legislation to block Obama from expanding deportation deferrals or granting work permits to those here illegally. Such a move would set up a confrontation between the GOP-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate that raises the specter of a government shutdown, which would likely be blamed on Republicans and could hurt their prospects in November.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has been urging Obama not to act alone on immigration, and warned the president in a letter this week that doing so would imperil prospects for overhauling immigration laws after the election. Rubio’s spokesman, Alex Conant, called the apparent delay a positive sign and one he hoped Obama would make permanent.

“It appears that the White House made a short-term political calculation that this was bad for them in the midterms,” Conant said.

Immigration advocates were taken aback by word of the potential delay, having been given no advance warning by the White House. Kica Matos of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement said that after spending months keeping the pressure on Obama, the group had been shifting into preparations for the announcement itself. Now, Matos said, exhausted advocates will have keep up the pressure to ensure Obama doesn’t get cold feet and call off the announcement altogether.

“They say they’re going to move forward, then somebody goes boo and then they hide,” Matos said.

___

The post Obama’s immigration delay derails midterm election strategies appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Perry criticizes Obama for ‘no strategy’ on Syria

DALLAS — Texas Gov. Rick Perry is wasting little time pouncing on President Barack Obama’s “we don’t have a strategy yet” comments about the violent militant faction attacking cities in Iraq, accusing the White House of “dithering and debating” the threat posed by the Islamic State group.

Perry is one of a string of Republicans mulling 2016 presidential runs who is addressing thousands of delegates this weekend in Dallas at the annual summit of Americans for Prosperity, an influential conservative organization backed by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers.

“Yesterday, the president admitted he had no strategy to deal with ISIS,” Perry will say in his Friday afternoon speech, according to excerpts released early by his campaign. “The deepening chaos in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, and Ukraine is all the clear and compelling evidence the world needs of a president one step behind, lurching from crisis to crisis, always playing catch up.”

Perry was indicted this month in Austin on two felony counts related to abusing the power of his office. But a conviction in the case looks like a longshot, and Perry has gained favorable attention nationally by dismissing it as a political ploy.

Obama spoke Thursday, shortly before convening a meeting of his national security advisers to discuss a range of Pentagon options for confronting the Islamic State group. The U.S. is already striking militant targets in Iraq, and administration officials have said the president was considering similar action in neighboring Syria.

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” the president said. “I think that’s not just my assessment, but the assessment of our military, as well. We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re developing them.”

Also addressing the conservative gathering in Dallas on Friday was Gov. Mike Pence, but he didn’t mention Obama’s speech during his prepared remarks — and ducked a chance to ding the president in comments afterward.

“I didn’t hear his remarks, and I haven’t read them. But the president of the United States is the commander of chief of our armed forces,” Pence told The Associated Press. “I wouldn’t want to prejudge what his military advisers counsel.”

Also appearing at the summit later Friday is tea party-backed Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Through a spokesman, Paul offered no immediate comment on Obama’s speech.

Perry, though, was far less hesitant.

“President Obama’s response has been to minimize the threat, as if his words have the power to make it so,” Perry is planning to say of crisis in the Middle East and Ukraine. According to the excerpts, he’ll add: “American leadership is needed now, more than ever. Presidential leadership is needed now, more than ever.”

Addressing the Americans for Prosperity summit Saturday is tea party firebrand and fellow Texan, Sen. Ted Cruz, who himself has frequently been a vocal critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

The post Perry criticizes Obama for ‘no strategy’ on Syria appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Russian fund with U.S. advisers eludes sanctions

Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

The Russian Direct Investment Fund has managed to operate unaffected by the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and EU in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military actions in Ukraine. Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — As President Barack Obama warns of stepped-up economic punishments against Russia for its military incursions inside Ukraine, U.S. sanctions have so far avoided one prominent financial institution: the $10 billion Russian Direct Investment Fund, which has partnered with brand-name American companies and whose advisers include top U.S. and European private equity executives.

Despite its ties to Russian state businesses and officials, the Russian Direct Investment Fund has managed to operate unaffected by the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and EU in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military actions in Ukraine. The Ukrainian government said Russian troops invaded southeastern Ukraine on Thursday with two columns of tanks and military vehicles.

The fund has been working to help replace Western investors in Russia with money from Asia and the Middle East. In one recent deal, the fund and its partners paid $700 million to a Russian petrochemical company that is partially owned by a sanctioned Russian businessman. The fund’s head, Kirill Dmitriev, told the Associated Press that the company with which it did the deal, Sibur, has not been targeted by sanctions but otherwise declined to discuss fund investments.

Along with its team of Russian managers, the fund’s international advisory board includes private equity executives Stephen Schwarzman of The Blackstone Group LP, Leon Black of Apollo Global Management LLC and David Bonderman of TPG Capital LP.

The fund has so far escaped the effects from sanctions because it has not been explicitly targeted. The situation illustrates the Obama administration’s struggle to achieve conflicting goals — punishing Putin’s circle without damaging American companies doing business in Russia.

“We can’t have a situation where a business entity is immune from (sanctions) designation because it does some good things and some bad things,” said Jimmy Gurule, a senior Treasury Department enforcement official in the Bush administration and law professor at Notre Dame University.

Obama said Thursday that he expects U.S. and European allies to take additional steps to respond to the Russian military’s apparent invasion of Ukraine. “Capital is fleeing. Investors are increasingly staying out,” Obama said.

A Republican-backed bill in the Senate would extend sanctions to executives, companies and investment funds, including the $10 billion Russian fund, and penalize Americans who work with them, according to congressional staffers.

Within the Obama administration, Treasury lawyers and investigators have been consulting intelligence and law enforcement officials in recent weeks to identify targets for new sanctions, according to three federal officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the confidential discussions. The White House and Treasury Department declined to say whether the Russian fund might be a target.

Under presidential action, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has the authority to freeze a foreign target’s financial assets in the U.S. and block its transactions with Americans. The targets can be businesses or individuals and have included terrorists, criminals and state entities. Treasury can also limit the effect of its sanctions, and some of the targeted Russian banks are only restricted from accessing U.S. capital markets, not blocked entirely.

Some Westerners have already cut ties with the fund. Former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, a longtime Obama political intimate who was listed on corporate documents as a fund adviser as recently as April, has now severed ties with the fund. Harvard Professor Josh Lerner stepped down from the fund’s supervisory board. And last week, references to Kurt Bjorklund, a leader of European investment firm Permira, quietly disappeared from the fund’s website.

Others, including all three American private equity executives, have stayed put. Bonderman appeared in photographs and on the attendee list in April at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, an annual event favored by Putin that the Obama administration urged many top American business leaders to skip.

All the current and former board members either declined to comment or did not respond to phone calls and emails from the AP.

“Businesses are caught in the middle, because while they want to be loyal to the government, they have major investments here,” said Laura Brank, the head of the Russia practice at Dechert LLP, a major international law firm.

The Russian fund in May partnered with two unidentified international investors and Gazprombank, the sanctioned finance arm of Gazprom, the Russian-controlled energy conglomerate, to buy a liquefied gas terminal. The seller was OAO Sibur Holding, which is partially owned by Gennady Timchenko, a Russian billionaire on the U.S. sanctions list. Under the deal, as described by the Russian fund, Sibur sold the facility to the investors for $700 million — and simultaneously struck a deal to lease it back from them.

“The precision of U.S. sanctions is limited because you’ve got creative people on the other side trying to get around them,” said Timothy Frye, a political science professor at Columbia University who has also received a three-year Russian government grant through the Higher Economics School in Moscow.

Investors in the fund include BlackRock Inc. and General Electric Co., which partnered with the fund to build small power plants for industrial users across Russia. JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s One Equity Partners joined an Illinois tire company to buy a manufacturer of agricultural and industrial tires. European investors took stakes in telecommunications firms, information technology consultants and health care companies. In total, more than $6 billion from blue-chip foreign companies have flowed in.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., would extend sanctions against the fund by targeting banks such as Russia’s Vnesheconombank, which was restricted in limited sanctions by the Treasury Department in July from access to U.S. capital markets. VEB’s chairman, Vladimir A. Dimitriev, is a fund supervisor, and the bank is the primary source for the fund’s capital.

But even that might backfire. The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported this month that the Russian government is considering transferring the fund from VEB to the state-owned Bank of Russia to sidestep any expansion of Western sanctions.

The post Russian fund with U.S. advisers eludes sanctions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.