Category Archives: Economy

Rapid transformation of downtown Los Angeles’ skyline is being fueled by huge investments from Chinese companies now under FBI Investigation | Jan 16 2019

FBI corruption probe of L.A. City Hall focuses on downtown development boom

|| LA Times

“The rapid transformation of downtown Los Angeles’ skyline is being fueled in good measure by huge investments from Chinese companies eager to burnish their global brands and capitalize on L.A.’s real estate boom.

..

The warrant, which was filed in federal court in November but reviewed by The Times this weekend, sheds new light on the investigation and shows federal investigators are seeking records related not only to Huizar but also other City Hall officials, including Councilman Curren Price and current or former aides to Huizar, Council President Herb Wesson and Mayor Eric Garcetti.”

Now some of those projects have become a focus of federal agents seeking evidence of possible bribery, extortion, money laundering and other crimes as part of a corruption investigation at City Hall.

Federal investigators have cast a wide net for information about foreign investment in Los Angeles real estate development, according to a search warrant that names an array of political and business figures.

Among those named are executives of Chinese firms bankrolling two ambitious downtown projects that would result in three new towers on Figueroa Street. Investigators are also seeking records about L.A. development projects involving other foreign investors, including firms with large-scale hotel and residential projects in downtown.

The warrant does not say the FBI has gathered evidence of criminal activity by any of the people or companies named in the document. No one has been arrested or charged in the investigation.

The federal investigation became public in November, when FBI agents descended on the home and offices of L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents the vast majority of downtown. Since then, The Times has reported that investigators have sought records involving a longtime lobbyist and a fundraiser close to City Hall.

The warrant, which was filed in federal court in November but reviewed by The Times this weekend, sheds new light on the investigation and shows federal investigators are seeking records related not only to Huizar but also other City Hall officials, including Councilman Curren Price and current or former aides to Huizar, Council President Herb Wesson and Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Until recently, Huizar headed the powerful council committee that vets development projects. Price, in turn, heads a council committee focused on economic development, which reviews taxpayer subsidies offered by the city to hotel developers in and around downtown.

The warrant is not the only sign of FBI interest in L.A. development.

In recent months, real estate developers with projects in Huizar’s downtown-to-Eagle Rock district have received federal grand jury subpoenas instructing them to turn over communications with the councilman and dozens of current and former Huizar staffers since 2013, according to two sources familiar with the FBI’s instructions.

Those developers also have been told to provide information on any contributions they have made to Huizar’s reelection bid, his officeholder committee, any legal defense fund or his alma mater, Bishop Mora Salesian High School, the sources said. The subpoenas seek information on any donations made to two political committees with ties to Huizar — Community Support PAC and Families for a Better Los Angeles.

Developers in Huizar’s district also have been instructed to provide information on any gifts, meals, trips, vacations, flights, event tickets or rounds of golf they have provided to Huizar, his staff or any other council member, the sources said.

Among the information sought in the warrant were records related to trips to Las Vegas and stays at four hotels, including the Palazzo and Caesars Palace. The document does not explain why investigators want them.

Depending on where it goes, the FBI investigation could spur Angelenos to demand reforms of real estate development and campaign contributions and gifts at City Hall, said Kathy Feng, who was until recently the head of California Common Cause, a watchdog group that monitors ethics and money in politics.

“People already have a level of skepticism about how City Hall decisions are made around major development projects,” she said.

In the warrant, agents sought information from Google about a Gmail account tied to Ray Chan, a former deputy mayor for economic development for Garcetti who once headed the city building department and has worked since then as a consultant. Agents said they were looking for evidence related to an investigation into bribery, extortion, money laundering and other crimes that could involve more than a dozen people.

Among those named were two executives linked to Shenzhen New World Group, a Chinese company that has unveiled plans to redevelop the L.A. Grand Hotel downtown with a 77-story tower and build a 31-story hotel near Universal Studios.

The Times was unable to reach Wei Huang, president of Shenzhen New World Group, and Ricky Zheng, who was identified in state campaign contribution records as a Shenzhen New World LLC executive. Besides evidence of any possible crimes involving the two men, the federal warrant sought records relating to Shenzhen New World Group and two of its hotels.

The warrant, first reported by George Washington University counterterrorism expert Seamus Hughes, also named Fuer Yuan, founder of another company called Shenzhen Hazens. In 2017, the City Council approved a Shenzhen Hazens project on Figueroa Street, allowing the developer to demolish the nine-story Luxe City Center Hotel and replace it with two skyscrapers, one for a hotel, the other for condominiums.

As part of the approval process, the developer signed an agreement to contribute to initiatives long backed by Huizar, including $750,000 to support a planned downtown streetcar and $550,000 to the effort to revitalize the Broadway corridor.

Investigators asked in the warrant about the Luxe Hotel and George Chiang, who city records indicate was involved with the skyscraper project. David Chaiken, a company attorney, told The Times that Shenzhen Hazens was unable to share any information about its activities or the investigation.

 …Read more including comments @ LA Times

Asylum Requests up 1700 per cent on the Southern Border | June 21 2018

The Fraudulent Parent Problem on the Border

| Townhall

“President Trump signed an executive order this week allowing adults who illegally enter the United States with children, claiming to be family units, to be detained together in federal facilities.

The question of a valid parental-child relationship is at the center of how the Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services handle detainment. Because of fraudulent documentation, profits to smugglers, and false asylum claims, there is essentially no way to prove or verify adults traveling with children are indeed their parents.

In April 2016, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley warned about catch-and-release policies enabling the smuggling industry.  In the past, any non-Mexican or Canadian individual illegally crossing the border with a child was considered a family unit, processed and released into the interior. Current zero-tolerance policies require they be detained until prosecution.

“A recent Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report confirmed that human smuggling rings are exploiting children in order to prevent the detention of the undocumented immigrants they’re smuggling into the United States. They are pairing children with unrelated adults, knowing adults who enter the United States with children won’t be detained,” he said.

“At least one Honduran interviewed by DHS officials reported that children are kidnapped or adopted then smuggled with their unrelated adult “family member” to the United States. This smuggling practice has bolstered an underground market for counterfeit birth certificates according to the report, which was prepared by the DHS Human Smuggling Cell.  Once in the U.S., these children are vulnerable to labor or sex trafficking,” he continued.

Fast-forward to 2018 and this is still the case.

“If there’s no documentation to confirm the claimed relationship between an adult and a child, we [separate] if the parent is a national security, public or safety risk, including when there are criminal charges at issue and it may not be appropriate to maintain the family in detention together,” DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said at the White House Monday.

“We also separate a parent and child if the adult is suspected of human trafficking.  There have been cases where minors have been used and trafficked by unrelated adults in an effort to avoid detention,” she continued. “And I’d stop here to say, in the last five months, we have a 314 percent increase in adults and children arriving at the border, fraudulently claiming to be a family unit.  This is, obviously, of concern.”

Current and former Border Patrol and ICE agents who have worked extensively on human trafficking cases continue to have these concerns. Worse, they’re alarmed the majority of current media coverage is downplaying the smuggling angle.

“You can never really verify who the parents really are,” former Border Patrol and Customs Special Agent Jason Piccolo said during an interview with Townhall. “Especially in light of adult males showing up with kids.”

In 2015, Piccolo blew the whistle on the Obama administration releasing unaccompanied minors to unvetted, criminal sponsors. During that time, he served as the sole ICE and Enforcement and Removal Operations representative to the White House Security Council’s DHS Human Smuggling Cell. It was his job to disrupt or dismantle human smuggling organizations domestically and internationally.

“Without doing some kind of in-depth interview or interrogation or some kind of biometrics [DNA] there’s no way you can tell if the kids are actually family,” he said.

Piccolo explained how adults and children are given fake documents, including birth certificates to “prove” they are “related.”

“They’re given fake documents in order to get through Mexico and a lot of times they’ll give those fake documents back,” he said.

Smugglers are hired for as much as $20,000 per person and pair unrelated adults to unrelated children. The entire purpose is to claim asylum, valid or not, with the understanding that “family units” are apprehended and then released to the interior of the United States. Since 2008, asylum claims have ballooned by 1,700 percent according to DHS data.

Under the Obama administration, 80-90 percent of individuals making asylum claims with children were released after being processed and given a court date. Inevitably, they started living in the U.S. illegally for years to come. This is the policy the Trump administration is trying to change.

“When they’re presenting themselves they’d get an asylum interview and they’d get released,” Piccolo said. “It was widely known that the human smuggling cell knew that aliens coming in from South America stated that they were told if they were a family unit they would be released at the border.”

Piccolo suggests a joint effort with USCIS, DHS and FBI is necessary for vetting and that a joint task force must be developed to do interviews and interrogations of adults traveling with children.

“If you really want to fix this problem you have to really vet these adults,” he said. ”

….Continue reading more @ Townhall

 

Apple to Bring Home Billions to the USA || Jan 18 2018

Apple announces plans to repatriate billions in overseas cash, says it will contribute $350 billion to the US economy over the next 5 years

|| CNBC

Apple will invest $350 billion in the US economy over the next 5 years

“Apple will invest $350 billion in the US economy over the next 5 years
Apple on Wednesday made a slew of announcements about its investment in and contribution to the U.S. economy in part because of the new tax law.

The headline from Apple is that it will make a $350 billion “contribution” to the U.S. economy over the next five years, although it’s unclear exactly how the company came to that number.

The company also promised to create 20,000 new jobs and open a new campus.

It said it expects to pay about $38 billion in taxes for the horde of cash it plans to bring back to the United States. This implies it will repatriate virtually all of its $250 billion in overseas cash.

Apple also said it will spend over $30 billion in capital expenditures over the next five years. About $10 billion in capital expenditures will be investments in U.S. data centers, the company said.

Apple added that it will spend $5 billion as part of an innovation fund, up from the $1 billion CEO Tim Cook announced last year on CNBC’s “Mad Money.”

The job creation will include direct employment and also suppliers and its app business, which it had already planned to grow substantially (app developers earned $26.5 billion in 2017.) The new campus will focus on customer support.

Wednesday’s announcement indicates that Apple will still have hundreds of billions of dollars in cash. It could spend that money on buybacks, dividends or acquisitions or moonshot projects.

The announcement raises the bar for the world’s most valuable company — now a huge driver of the economy — to continue its dominance and growth in the wake of political pressure on big tech companies. The plan calls for Apple to keep up 2018’s $55 billion “supercycle” spending rate with domestic suppliers and manufacturers.

“We have a deep sense of responsibility to give back to our country and the people who help make our success possible,” Cook said in a statement.

In 2016, then president-elect Donald Trump publicly called out Apple’s reliance on its Chinese supply chain, telling The New York Times that he would “get Apple to build a big plant in the United States, or many big plants in the United States.”

Apple shares were up about half a percent after the announcement, adding about $5.6 billion to the company’s market capitalization after the stock opened Wednesday’s trading session down 0.3 percent.

….Continue reading more @ CNBC.com

Gov Jerry Brown Missing in Action Again as Aliso Canyon Springs Another Gas Leak | Dec 27 2017

SoCal Gas Faces Violation Notice for Recent Aliso Canyon Gas Leak

||  NBC San Diego

Regulators contend that SoCalGas didn’t notify the community about the leak until more than two hours after it began.

“The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a violation notice to Southern California Gas Co. Friday stemming from a nearly hour-long gas leak that occurred Monday at the Aliso Canyon storage facility in Porter Ranch.

The notice accuses the gas company of causing a public nuisance, and regulators contend SoCalGas didn’t notify AQMD or the community about the leak until more than two hours after it began.

.. ..

According to the AQMD, the leak was caused by the failure of a flange gasket, and SoCalGas did not notify the agency or the community about the leak until “more than two hours after it began.”

“We take all nuisance odor incidents seriously,” AQMD Executive Officer Wayne Nastri said. “SoCalGas and all facilities in our region have an obligation to protect residents from foul odors that can impact their communities.”

The Aliso Canyon facility was the site of the largest methane leak in U.S. history. That leak began in October 2015 and wasn’t capped until February 2016. Roughly8 8,000 families were forced from their homes, with many residents complaining of a variety of health issues. Many residents continue to call for the permanent closure of the facility.”

…Continue reading more @ nbc san diego

Foreign Nationals Now the Majority in Silicon Valley Jobs | Nov 22 2017

Report: Foreign Nationals Outnumber Americans in High-Paying, White-Collar Silicon Valley Jobs

|| Breitbart

“Foreign nationals now outnumber Americans in high-paying, high-skilled, white-collar jobs in Silicon Valley, California – the hub of the United States tech industry.

Silicon Valley Leadership Group President Carl Guardino touted the statistic in a report, revealing that 57 out of every 100 jobs in Silicon Valley that require at least a bachelor’s degree are taken by a foreign-born resident.

The revelation comes as President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, has led an initiative to increase educational funding of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields while ignoring the issue of mass immigration and multiple visa programs that have led to Americans being replaced by foreign nationals.

For instance, Ivanka helped secure $200 million of the Department of Education’s grant funds towards STEM fields, Breitbart News reported.

At the same time, Ivanka endorsed a plan to give amnesty to illegal aliens who have been shielded under a President Obama-created temporary amnesty program. Such an amnesty would have the potential to lead to a chain migration whereby between 9.9 million and 19 million foreign nationals enter the U.S. over the next few decades, further crowding out Americans from the workforce.

The growing foreign-born population taking jobs in Silicon Valley comes as nearly 500,000 Americans graduate in the STEM fields every year who are forced to compete with a booming foreign-born population in the U.S. and foreign workers who are imported by outsourcing firms and major tech conglomerates.

For example, the H-1B visa, which brings more than 100,000 foreign workers to the U.S. every year, has been used quietly by tech giants like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook to import a cheaper, foreign workforce, as Breitbart News reported. The H-1B visa allows for Americans to be displaced from their white-collar jobs, and sometimes they are even forced to train their foreign replacements as a stipulation of their severance.

Every year, more than 1.5 million illegal and legal immigrants are admitted to the U.S., with the current foreign-born population booming to an unprecedented high of roughly 44 million individuals. Mass immigration to the U.S. has been at the expense of American workers in the working and middle-class who have been forced to compete with foreign labor while their wages have remained stagnant.”

….Continue reading more @ Breitbart

 

Dem Congressman Who Oversees Sexual Harassment Settlements is Under FBI Investigation

|| theGatewayPundit

“It turns out that the Democrat swamp creature who oversees Congressional sexual harassment settlements is under FBI investigation.

Democrat Congressman Bob Brady of Pennsylvania is under FBI investigation for false statements, conspiracy and campaign fraud, Newsweek reported.

Brady is apparently Congress’ most trusted man to oversee sexual harassment cases. Amazing.

Pennsylvania Congressman Bob Brady, who oversees the settlements paid by Congress for sexual discrimination complaints, is under FBI investigation for false statements, conspiracy and campaign fraud, documents showed Tuesday.

Brady, a Democrat, is a ranking member of the Committee on House Administration, which gives him power over settlement payments with taxpayer dollars. The office also works to prevent sexual harassment in Congress.

The FBI obtained a search warrant for Brady’s emails.

There is probable cause to believe that Brady and his associates “were involved in the commission of several crimes, including conspiracy, false statements, producing false records, false campaign contribution reports, and violating limits on campaign contributions and expenditures,” the court papers say. “Brady’s email account is likely to contain evidence of these crimes.”

Brady’s campaign associates were also indicted last month.

A man like Bob Brady can easily be bribed or blackmailed since he is compromised. He is not fit to be in a position of power over other men who are desperate to make their sexual harassment cases disappear. This dynamic further stacks up against female victims who are abused and intimidated by powerful men in DC.”

….Continue more @ TGP

Sedition! California Passes Sanctuary Law Refusing to Cooperate with Feds | Oct 06 2017

California Becomes ‘Sanctuary State’ with Gov. Brown’s Signature

|| Breitbart

Sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that tends toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontention (or resistance) to lawful authority.

“California officially became a sanctuary state for illegal aliens on Thursday with the stroke of Gov. Jerry Brown’s pen.

Senate Bill 54 will go into effect in January 2018. Brown signed the bill entitled the “California Values Act” and released a signing statement. Brown explained what the bill does and does not do.

The bill prohibits local law enforcement from asking about immigration status in the course of routine interactions and prohibits them from complying with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests.

“The bill further directs our Attorney General to promulgate model policies for local and state health, education, labor and judiciary officials to follow when they deal with immigration matters,” wrote Brown.”

…Continue reading more @ Breitbart

 

UC Berkeley Students Protest Exam, Accuse Peers And Professor Of Supporting White Supremacy

|| DailyCaller

“UC Berkeley students attempted to shut down their midterm exam, with claims that it would have a negative impact on their physical and mental health. The students, who were captured on video, demanded a “take-home essay with significant time to prepare” and accused their uncooperative professor of not checking his privilege.

“This is a campus that is truly related throughout Latin America to the notion of free speech, said professor Harley Shaiken to the class, eliciting laughter and derision from the protesters.

Dismissive of the professor, the activists claimed that their “well-beings are being put on the line because of the emotional, mental, and physical stress that this university is compounding with what is already going on in [their] everyday lives.”

One protester shouted: “Have you ever checked ‘unlisted’ or ‘undocumented immigrant’? I don’t think so!”

Shaiken, who has written about workers’ rights in Mexico, is an expert in labor issues and earned the Outstanding Teaching Award at the University of California, San Diego in 1991. Despite his expertise in the subject, the students called him unfit to lecture them on the subject because he is white.

“Are you trying to silence us right now? Is that what you’re trying to do?” said a protester responding to a student who jokingly asked if it was a filibuster.

The professor offered to leave the classroom and hold a discussion with the protesters outside to prevent further disruption of the exam, but they refused. Instead, they took their complaints to the Department of Ethnic Studies.

“I don’t know why you’re still, like, sitting down, y’all. I don’t understand. I really don’t understand. Y’all can take your fucking test, but people are dying out there,” complained one protester, who remained behind to accuse her peers of not participating in their protest. She accused her fellow students of supporting white supremacy.”

….Continue reading more @ Daily Caller

Global Media Companies Continue Slide Against Changing Tech Climate | Sep 28 2017

Shares of U.S. Media Companies Set for Worst Month Since 2015

|| Wall Street Journal

Traditional players struggle to adapt to shift toward streaming services

“By Michael Wursthorn / WSJ

Shares of cable providers and entertainment companies in the U.S. are suffering their worst stretch in nearly two years, as traditional players struggle to adapt to a shift toward streaming services.

Americans are ditching television subscriptions in favor of viewing movies and TV shows through online services. The move disrupts a delicate ecosystem of media companies sustaining themselves on subscription fees from pay-TV providers, and echoes Amazon.com Inc.’s upending of the brick-and-mortar retail landscape.

This development, along with disruptions related to major summer storms, has been pushing down stocks of major cable and broadcast companies.

In a sign of the diverging fortunes, Roku Inc., an early player in streaming television, priced its initial public offering late Wednesday. The IPO price valued the company at about $1.3 billion, according to a person familiar with the deal.

A group of 13 media companies in the S&P 500 have fallen 3.5% so far in September, on track for its steepest monthly decline since December 2015, while the S&P 500 has gained 1.4%.

Media shares got a bit of a reprieve Wednesday, rising 1% in their biggest gain since late July as the group joined an upswing in the broader market. Doug Mitchelson, a media analyst with UBS Group AG, attributed the gains to the Republican tax overhaul, which was unveiled Wednesday and proposed sharply reduced tax rates on businesses and many individuals.

“One of the top reasons for cord-cutting is affordability,” said Mr. Mitchelson. “A healthier consumer is a better spender for media companies.”

A selloff in the sector gathered pace on Sept. 7, when two industry giants gave updates that disappointed investors. Comcast Corp. said it expects to lose as many as 150,000 video subscribers in the third quarter.

“There’s a general level of concern around the major media companies having to do with cord-cutting and audience trends,” said Bryan Kraft, a media analyst with Deutsche Bank. “Those concerns aren’t new, but when there’s data to support they’re getting worse, you tend to see the stocks react accordingly.”

Even as the media sector over all holds on to gains for the year, up 3.9%, analysts say shares could slide further as companies cope with greater competition from rivals who are stepping up spending on content creation, such as Netflix Inc. and Apple Inc., as well as a challenging ratings environment.

National Football League games, usually considered a reliable draw for TV viewers and ad dollars, have been another headache for media companies. Ratings for this season’s NFL games have been mostly flat or down, compared with the year-earlier period, said analysts, who added that disruptions wrought by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma could be partly to blame.

NFL ratings could also be affected by players’ national anthem protests after President Donald Trump blasted players who participated. DirecTV is letting at least some customers cancel subscriptions to its Sunday ticket package of NFL games and obtain refunds if they cite the protests as the reason.

“These extraordinary hurricanes have had a pretty severe impact on viewership, but it’s difficult to quantify” the impact from those storms alone, said Mr. Mitchelson. “Investors are nervous NFL ratings could end up down for the season.”

Besides that, new online “skinny bundles”—slimmed-down packages of channels from the likes of Hulu and YouTube TV—have left out many cable channels that are part of the traditional bundle. That will put pressure on some channel owners as more consumers sign up for those services, said Mr. Kraft, the media analyst at Deutsche Bank.

“Those services are seeing a lot of subscriber growth,” Mr. Kraft said, although he added the exact size of that population is hard to peg since some companies don’t release specific numbers.

Still, analysts pointed to Charter Communications Inc. as a bright spot among the media landscape. The company last year bought Time Warner Cable Inc. and Bright House Networks, making it one of the largest cable operators in the U.S.