CHARLESTON, WV — A one percent cut in the state School Aid Formula will result in a total of more than $16 million in funding reductions in county school systems.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed an executive order Monday ordering budget cuts because of a significant decrease in state revenues mainly caused by decreased coal production and the record low prices for natural gas.
Tomblin’s order requires a four percent cut in the current state budget for most state agencies along with the one percent cut in school aid. Public education can no longer be spared in the current budget climate, Tomblin’s Chief of Staff Charlie Lorensen said.
“Holding that (public education) harmless continually without adjusting that and continuing to pound the (same) state agencies with across-the-board reductions seemed like an area we needed to address,” Lorensen said Tuesday on MetroNews Talkline.
The amount of money county school systems receive from the state Aid Formula varies per county. Information from the state Department of Education shows the cuts range from $1.56 million in Kanawha County to $62,600 in Gilmer County.
Lorensen would not rule out additional cuts for all agencies during the current budget year as long as severance tax revenues from coal and natural gas continue to plummet.
“A significant general revenue source has been impaired and we are concerned it may be a long-term impairment,” he said.
Higher education will be required to shoulder the four percent cut. It’s been hit with various cuts in recent years.
Breakdown of state School Aid Formula budget cut:
School Aid Formula
FY16 Appropriations: $1,752,212,115
Excluded from cuts: $148,946,738 (Local Share, Retirement, PEIA, SBA)
Fraud Alert: Don’t Be Fooled by Health Care Grant Scams
Fraudsters are out there trying to scam Americans, claiming they’re from the Department of Health & Human Services. This recent story from a woman in Philadelphia was typical: She told me that she had received a call from someone who claimed he was with HHS. The caller told her she had been awarded a $2,500 grant, and it was easy to get. All she had to do was send in a few hundred dollars for the application fee, and HHS would send her a check. Thankfully, she didn’t. Instead, she hung up and reported the call.
The success of crude scams like these may seem implausible, but given the frequency of phone calls we get, they also must work – at least occasionally. Fraudsters may be asking for money orders or just looking for personal data, like bank accounts. But don’t be fooled. HHS does not ask individuals for money; it definitely doesn’t dole out grant money in exchange for deposits or ask for your banking information.
Fraudulent calls can be confusing, but you can protect yourself. In addition to protecting your personal financial information, whenever someone contacts you about your health or health coverage, always ask questions and never sign anything that makes you concerned. Keep an eye out for these five red flags:
Someone calls to ask for a small fee to obtain a government grant.
The government does not use direct phone contact to solicit, review or make awards. All grant applications are free to fill out and must be submitted through a government website.
Click here for more information on grant-related scams. You can also report grant-related scam attempts to the Health and Human Services (HHS) Fraud Hotline at 1.800.447.8477 and email.
Someone asks for money to enroll you in Marketplace or “Obamacare” health insurance.
You can get help with enrolling in a Health Insurance Marketplace plan for free. The Marketplace has a call center that is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also find people or organizations near you that can help you enroll in person. Find out more here.
Scammers may also insist that you enroll through the Marketplace even though you have Medicare. Medicare beneficiaries do not need to buy coverage through the Marketplace. In fact, it’s against the law for someone who knows you have Medicare to sell you a Marketplace plan.
Someone pressures you with visits, mail or email solicitations and phone calls insisting they work for the government.
Always ask for identification if someone visits you in person. Make sure you get his name, who he works for, his telephone number, address, email address and website.
If you apply for coverage, you may get a phone call from the Marketplace asking you to verify or provide more information so we can easily process your application. The representative should give you a first name and an agent ID number. Write those down, and if you don’t feel comfortable answering questions over the phone, ask the caller to mail you a letter with instructions for completing your application.
Someone you did not contact asks for your financial or health information.
No one from the government will call you or email you trying to sell you an insurance plan or ask for your financial information like a bank name and account number. Keep information like your credit card number, banking information or Social Security number private and protected. And a Marketplace representative will never need to ask about your personal health information like your medical history or specific treatments. (If you’re applying for certain Marketplace exemptions, you may be asked to provide medical documentation.)
Someone directs you to a website without official government seals, logos or website addresses.
The official website of the Marketplace is Healthcare.gov, and you can find all of the information you need there.
The official website to apply for or check the status of a grant application is Grants.gov.
At HHS, we’re working with our partners in the Administration to find and prosecute these criminals, but we need your help to prevent fraud before it strikes.
We need you and your family to keep a watchful eye. If you think someone is trying to steal your money or your identity, we need you to act so they can’t do the same to your friends or neighbors.
Fayette County Commission Retains Legal Counsel To Resolve County’s Dispute With SBA
FAYETTEVILLE, WV — The Fayette County Commission has voted unanimously to retain Mountain State Justice in preparation of legal action against the School Building Authority.
The SBA voted last week to reject the Fayette County Comprehensive Education Facilities Plan–an attempt at upgrading apparently dilapidated facilities.
Fayette County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Harrah said nothing is off the table at this point.
“Fayette County Commission has retained Mountain State Justice to pursue any and all legal action necessary to alleviate the problems here that we suffer here in Fayette County in our school system,” he said.
In what has turned out to be a controversial decision, the School Building Authority voted to deny Fayette County’s amendment–not even providing the school system with an opportunity to present their request in front of the SBA in November.
The amendment would have closed six schools, consolidating four Fayette County high schools (Fayetteville, Oak Hill, Meadow Bridge, and Midland Trail) into one new high school in the Oak Hill area. Additionally, Oak Hill High School would have transitioned into a new Collins Middle School and the county would have built a new elementary school.
This plan was proposed after Fayette County failed to adopt a bond issue in June. This was the third time since 2001 such a vote has failed. A bond issue hasn’t been passed in Fayette County since 1973.
State Board of Education President Mike Green sent a letter to Governor Tomblin requesting a second vote from the SBA on the decision. It’s Green’s belief that the SBA acted outside of it’s authority by voting down the amendment on a vote that was only supposed to be used to determine whether or not Fayette County had met all necessary requirements in their application.
Fayette County School Superintendent Terry George felt the move by the School Building Authority was, in some ways, unprecedented and may have been outside of their scope of power.
“I’m not an attorney so I’m not going stay here and say that stuff, but I felt they did,” he said.
Though the parties were vague about what a potential legal remedy would look like, George said he’d like the chance to present the full Fayette County Comprehensive Education Facilities Plan to the School Building Authority next month.
“That’s my hope, but as of right now we were not approved,” he said. “So we are not eligible for the funding cycle at this time.”
Harrah said any legal remedy will have to start with Mountain State Justice.
“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s up to them to negotiate. I can’t comment on that.”
There were some detractors in Fayette County who did not support the new plan–mostly from the Meadow Bridge area–over travel time for students on buses to a potential new high school in the Oak Hill area.
Travel time for students would have been more than an hour each direction.
Governor Tomblin Announces Reduction in Fiscal 2016 Budget
Dramatic decline in severance taxes results in cuts
CHARLESTON, WV – Governor Earl Ray Tomblin today announced an across-the-board cut of 4 percent for most West Virginia government agencies, a move made necessary largely due to unexpected and unprecedented drops in the state’s severance tax collections.
“This is a difficult decision that results from several factors beyond our control,” Governor Tomblin said. “We are taking this action based on trends we see in the first three months of the fiscal year that we expect to continue throughout this budget cycle. While the cuts we’re enacting today will not be easy, we must maintain a balanced budget and this will help us do that.”
State aid to public schools, which has not been subject to budget cuts in recent years, will see a 1 percent reduction.
In addition to the spending cuts, Governor Tomblin announced the state hiring freeze will continue, nonessential travel for state employees will be eliminated, and the annual holiday parties will be canceled. The governor met with legislative leaders Monday afternoon to discuss the situation.
The projected deficit for Fiscal Year 2016 is currently more than $250 million, in large part due to a $190 million shortfall in severance tax collections. As of Sept. 30, general revenues are more than $60 million behind estimates, a figure that has grown quickly from a $12 million deficit at the end of August.
In addition to cuts that represent more than $100 million, the state will use one-time appropriations to close the budget gap. An appropriation from the Rainy Day Fund is possible, although Governor Tomblin pledged to keep that figure as low as possible. The Rainy Day Fund was created in 1994 under the leadership of then-Senate President Tomblin and has grown to $869 million, a figure about 5 percent higher than the 15 percent bond rating agencies have suggested is necessary to keep the state’s high bond rating that reduces borrowing costs.
“We have been prudent in our use of the Rainy Day Fund, and adjustments prior to this budget year beginning resulted in us taking just $14.8 million from the fund rather than the $85 million initially expected,” Governor Tomblin said. “We continue to have one of the best Rainy Day Funds in the country, and we created the fund for unexpected difficult times such as this.”
Severance tax collections rose 2 percent during the first nine months of Fiscal Year 2015 but dropped by 31 percent during the final three months of the last fiscal year and dropped 36 percent during the first two months of Fiscal Year 2016. Coal production is down 15 percent compared to last year. Although natural gas sales are up roughly 30 percent early this fiscal year, natural gas severance tax revenues are expected to decrease for the year because of significantly lower prices.
It is worth noting that a significant portion, more than $400 million of the state’s $4.2 billion budget, goes toward paying off old unfunded liabilities such as the Teachers Retirement System. The state has never missed one of these payments, which is critical to the long-term financial stability of the state, and Governor Tomblin reiterated Monday that the state remains committed to making all appropriate payments toward paying off those liabilities.
Police: Armed man arrested after Marshall campus chase
HUNTINGTON, WV — A man has been arrested after police say he led authorities on a chase through the Marshall University campus while he carried a gun.
Huntington Police Chief Joe Ciccarelli tells local media outlets that police received a call Monday afternoon reporting a suspicious person with a gun walking toward the college campus. Both Marshall Police officers and Huntington Police officers responded. When the suspect saw the first responding officer, he fled on foot.
As police chased the suspect, authorities say he threw his 9 mm pistol onto the roof of the college’s Communications Building.
Police arrested the man minutes later and identified him as 19-year-old Brian Nelms-Jolly. He is charged with possession of a concealed and deadly weapon and fleeing on foot.
It is unclear whether Nelms-Jolly has an attorney.
$800,000 FOR REVITALIZATION PROJECT IN SOUTHERN WEST VIRGINIA
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) announced $800,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Children and Families to the Coalfield Development Corporation in southern West Virginia. The funding will be used to enhance job creation and business development through Reclaim Appalachia, a project to deconstruct older buildings with no further economic life and either repurpose or donate the deconstructed materials in Wayne, Mingo and Lincoln Counties.
“Southern West Virginia has been hit particularly hard by the harmful regulations of this Administration, and we must do everything we can to ensure they have access to quality jobs and a quality way of life,” Senator Manchin said. “This funding will help the Coalfield Development Corporation continue their important work, and I am thrilled they are receiving funding to help improve their communities and their quality of life.”
“In order to revitalize Southern West Virginia’s economy, we must invest in creative projects that will strengthen the workforce and create new job opportunities,” said Senator Capito. “This funding for the Coalfield Development Corporation will help support exactly the kind of programs we need to get West Virginians back to work.”
Coalfield Development Corporation is a community based organization that generates opportunities for families by providing quality and affordable homes and creating quality jobs in southern West Virginia.
FBI FIGHTS ATTEMPTS TO SMUGGLE NUCLEAR MATERIAL TO TERRORISTS
The successful busts, however, were undercut by striking shortcomings: Kingpins got away, and those arrested evaded long prison sentences, sometimes quickly returning to nuclear smuggling.
SOUTH CAROLINA GETS A RESPITE FROM RAINSTORMS
Tuesday was the first dry day since Sept. 24 in the state capital, but officials warned that new evacuations could come as the huge mass of water flows toward the sea.
WHY THE TOP U.S. COMMANDER IN AFGHANISTAN RECOMMENDS KEEPING MORE TROOPS THERE
Gen. John F. Campbell tells Congress conditions have changed since President Obama announced a plan to withdraw forces, and that a military presence is needed to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban.
CONTRASTS BETWEEN CLINTON AND SANDERS COMING INTO FOCUS
As their first debate approaches, their differences on foreign policy, gun control and trade are becoming clearer.
MYSTERY DEEPENS OVER FATE OF SUNKEN U.S. CARGO SHIP
Authorities are likely to focus on possible engine problems as they continue to search for 33 missing mariners.
HOW A NEW GENERATION OF PALESTINIANS IS PUSHING FOR UNREST
Too young to remember the hardships during Israel’s clampdown on the last major uprising, they are driving the current wave of clashes, having lost faith in dialogue and believing Israel only understands force.
U.S. SEEMS CLOSE TO ALLOWING WOMEN IN COMBAT
Defense Secretary Ash Carter says limiting the search for qualified military candidates to just half the population would be “crazy.“
AMERICAN INDIAN ARTIFACTS MAY HAVE BEEN TAKEN BY ACTORS FROM “MAZE RUNNER” MOVIE SET IN NEW MEXICO
Following comments by the film’s star, Dylan O’Brien, 20th Century Fox says it is investigating and will return any stolen items.
ESPN GRAPPLES WITH FANTASY SPORTS SCANDAL
DraftKings billboards will be pulled from news shows amid reports that an employee may have accessed valuable company data before winning second place in a FanDuel contest.
WHO’S PLAYING IN THE BIG LEAGUES TONIGHT
The Yankees and Astros open baseball’s postseason, with 20-game winner Dallas Keuchel of Houston facing Masahiro Tanaka in the AL wild-card game.
Oregon shooter rants in writings about having no girlfriend
ROSEBURG, OR — The gunman who executed nine people at an Oregon community college before killing himself ranted in writings he left behind about not having a girlfriend and thinking everyone else was crazy, a law enforcement official said Monday.
The official also said the mother of 26-year-old gunman Christopher Harper-Mercer has told investigators he was struggling with some mental health issues. The official is familiar with the investigation but wasn’t authorized to speak publically because it is ongoing.
Harper-Mercer complained in the writings about not having a girlfriend, and he seemed to feel like he was very rational while others around him were not, the official said.
He wrote something to the effect of: “Other people think I’m crazy, but I’m not. I’m the sane one,“ the official said. The writings recovered at the shooting scene were a couple of pages long.
Local pastor Randy Scroggins has said his 18-year-old daughter, who survived the shooting, told him the gunman gave an envelope to another student and instructed him to give it to police. The envelope contained a flash drive, Scroggins said.
Also Monday, some faculty, staff and students returned to the campus for the first time since the shooting, while President Barack Obama announced he will travel to Oregon this week to visit privately with victims’ families.
Classes do not resume at Umpqua Community College until next week, but some students came to the campus to pick up belongings they left behind Thursday when they fled. Others met with professional groups to discuss their trauma and grief.
A memorial was growing on the driveway leading to Snyder Hall, where Harper-Mercer opened fire. Besides those who died, nine people were wounded. Harper-Mercer killed himself after a shootout with police.
“It was hard not to focus on Snyder Hall,“ student Joel Mitchell said. “When we got back, I think a lot of people were probably ... looking at it, checking it out, seeing what it looked like.“
A group of eight held hands and bowed their heads in prayer in front of the building. Elsewhere, clusters of people chatted at picnic tables or near buildings.
In a courtyard near the center of campus, a therapy dog sat on a blanket with its handler. A woman, crouched down, wiped away a tear.
At least one student injured in the shooting was among those who returned Monday, college President Rita Cavin said. She did not identify the student.
Reporters were barred from campus but taken on a brief tour. School officials designated an outdoor amphitheater as a makeshift memorial, open only to staff and students for now. Flowers and balloons were positioned on tables, and markers were available for people to write messages on a banner that says, “UCC Strong.“
“I needed to be here,“ student Madysen Sanchez said. “I needed to come and see my friends, make sure they’re OK.“
Chaplains who had been on campus said they were both helping with and participating in the healing process.
“I’m going through the grieving process myself because this has touched everyone in the community,“ chaplain Russell Wilson said. “If you don’t know someone that goes here, you know someone that knows someone.“
Meanwhile, Obama said he will visit Roseburg on Friday as he opens a four-day trip to the West Coast. No additional details about his visit were immediately available.
Obama has renewed his call for stricter gun laws following the shooting and has expressed exasperation at the frequency of mass shootings in the U.S.
It Now Costs More to Get Your Money From an ATM
Consider this: $4.52. No, it’s not the price of a venti Frappuccino—it’s what the average American is forking over this year for each time he or she uses an ATM that isn’t part of their bank. The $4.52 is a sum of what your bank and the ATM owner collectively charge. That new average out-of-network fee is up 21% in five years, reports the Wall Street Journal, which cites BankRate’s numbers.
The Journal reports that part of the reason why it’s getting costlier is because it’s actually easier to get money for free elsewhere, for instance as part of a grocery store purchase made with a debit card. Indeed, debit-card withdrawals from ATMs in general have fallen 41% in the last decade; we’re doing an average 2 withdrawals per month, compared to 3.4 in 2005.
Craigslist ‘Missed Connection’ Hailed as Best Ever
A week after a man flew four B-52 sorties over Hanoi, dropping a total of 48 bombs over an unknown number of homes, he holed up in an apartment in Boston with a fifth of Tennessee rye and a Smith & Wesson Model 15, and vowed, upon returning from a final walk in the rain, to “give myself the discharge I deserved.“ So he writes in a Boston Craigslist Missed Connection post, titled “I met you in the rain on the last day of 1972 - m4w,“ which Wired is calling the first Craigslist ad “to win a Pulitzer,“ and Adweek reports is “so beautiful, you don’t care if it’s true.“ The man goes on to describe the woman he met taking shelter under the awning of the Old State House, in a teal ball gown with “a galaxy of freckles” dusting her shoulders. “I’d never seen anything so beautiful.“
After an hour-long chat at a nearby five and dime, she disappeared while he used the restroom—leaving him in a state of turmoil that overrode his desire to take his life. And though he is reaching out 43 years later, after the recent passing of both his wife and his son, he wants her to know this: “As I cast this virtual coin into the wishing well of the cosmos, it occurs to me, after a million what-ifs and a lifetime of lost sleep, that our connection wasn’t missed at all…. Sometimes I can still smell the smoke over Hanoi. And then, a few dozen times a year, I’ll receive a gift. The sky will glower, and the clouds will hide the sun, and the rain will begin to fall. And I’ll remember.“ According to Reddit users, it did indeed rain in Boston on the last day of 1972.
Thwarted School Shooting Was ‘Pretty Doggone Close’
As America reeled from the mass shooting in Oregon, four male high school students found themselves under arrest in California last week for what Sheriff Jim Mele of Tuolumne County called a plot to “shoot and kill as many people as possible at [their] campus.“ The unnamed male juveniles confessed to the plan to attack Summerville Union High School in Tuolumne, said Mele on Saturday; though no weapons were recovered, the sheriff says the boys discussed how to get them and “were in the process” of trying to do so. The New York Times quotes Mele as saying the students were “pretty doggone close” to carrying out an attack. “(Close) enough to keep me up last night.“ The alleged plot came to light by way of classmates who overheard three of the boys talking on Wednesday and went to a teacher.
That teacher told school administrators, who “were in the classroom pulling those students out ... within two to three minutes,“ says the superintendent, per the Times. Their plan, which the Times describes as “highly detailed,“ also “included names of would-be victims, locations, methods in which the plan was to be carried out”; it was reportedly to occur during an upcoming school event. Among the intended victims were reportedly students and faculty. The four males were arrested Friday afternoon and charged with conspiracy to commit an assault with deadly weapons, reports the Modesto Bee. No motive has been given. The Los Angeles Times describes Tuolumne, a town of not quite 2,000 that sits about three hours east of San Francisco, as having experienced its “heyday ... during the Gold Rush era.“
Coast Guard Finds Body, Says Missing Ship Is Presumed Lost
The Coast Guard says a body has been found in the search for a cargo ship that disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin carrying 33 crew members. In addition to life rings> and other debris from the 790-foot El Faro, Capt. Mark Fedor says “less than a handful” of survival suits, including one containing “unidentifiable” human remains, have been found, per the AP. While he did not confirm that the suits—which keep a person floating and upright in water—came from El Faro, Fedor did say there were 46 on the ship. He added one of El Faro’s two lifeboats was found “heavily damaged” but contained “no signs of life.“ After a search of 70,000 square nautical miles, “We are assuming that the vessel has sank … at its last known position,“ Fedor added. While “we are still looking for survivors,“ he said the 28 Americans and five Poles would have faced perilous conditions, including 50-foot waves, if they did abandon the ship.
The mother of the ship’s second mate says her last contact with her daughter came via an email Thursday: “There is a hurricane out here and we are heading straight into it,“ Danielle Randolph wrote, per NBC News. “Winds are super bad and seas are not great. Love to everyone.“ Hours after her message, El Faro sent a distress signal, noting it was taking on water and tilting at 15 degrees. The ship’s cargo load—391 containers on deck and 293 vehicles below—may have made the listing more severe, reports USA Today. “She always said to me, ‘If anything happens to me, Mom, when I’m out at sea, it’s OK. I died doing what I want to do,‘“ Randolph’s mother says. But other relatives are questioning why the ship headed into the heart of the storm. “Normally my husband tells me that they have a different route that they take to go around the storm,“ the wife of missing crew member says. “This is totally unacceptable.“
‘Mechanical Failure’ Doomed Cargo Ship
The captain of the El Faro planned to sail ahead of Hurricane Joaquin, but the cargo ship was doomed by a mechanical failure that left it at the mercy of the storm, according to the vessel’s owner. The CEO of Tote Services says the captain, who was last heard from on Thursday morning, had determined that the weather was good enough to follow a sister ship’s path back to Jacksonville, Fla., the AP reports. “Regrettably he suffered a mechanical problem with his main propulsion system, which left him in the path of the storm,“ the CEO says. “We do not know when his engine problems began to occur, nor the reasons for his engine problems.“ The Coast Guard believes the ship, with a crew of 28 Americans and five Poles, sank in 15,000 feet of water near the Bahamas.
Mariners tell the AP that the ship would probably have been able to make it through the worst of the storm if it had engine power, but without it, it would have been helpless and even abandoning ship would have been extremely difficult. Such disasters are extremely rare, reports the Atlantic. Until the El Faro, more Boeing 777s had been lost at sea than large cargo ships over the last five years, and, amid a huge volume of maritime traffic, only six were lost in the decade from 2005, although dozens more ran aground or sank with some warning. Searchers are now looking for survivors instead of the ship itself, though all they have found so far is debris and a survival suit with “unidentifiable” human remains.
1.8M Boxes of Cheerios Recalled
General Mills is recalling 1.8 million boxes of Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios produced at a plant in Lodi, Calif., saying the cereal is labeled gluten-free but actually contains wheat. The recall affects Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios that were made in July. The Minneapolis company said Monday that wheat flour was inadvertently used in a gluten-free oat flour system. The use of wheat flour means the cereals are not gluten-free, and people with conditions like wheat allergies or celiac disease who consume them might suffer an allergic reaction or discomfort. The recall comes shortly after General Mills launched gluten-free Cheerios.
Earlier this year the company said it found a way to remove small amounts of wheat, rye, and barley that are unintentionally added to oat supplies when the oats are being grown or transported. It started shipping gluten-free Cheerios in five flavors in July. Analysts say that while the recall only affects 1% of annual Cheerios production, consumers may now have a hard time trusting the cereal is really gluten-free. The cereal boxes have the plant code “LD.“ The Cheerios have “better if used by” dates from July 14 to July 17, 2016, and the Honey Nut Cheerios have “better if used by” dates of July 12 to 25, 2016.
Toddler Missing for 2 Days Found in Field
Little Rainn Peterson was playing with her two siblings at her great-grandparents’ home in Ohio Friday night when she went missing. Her family reported her disappearance and a search was started—and on Sunday night, one of the volunteer searchers found the 2-year-old girl in a field about half a mile from the house, NBC News reports. “I found Baby Rainn and she’s still alive,“ the searcher tells the 911 dispatcher in a call obtained by WKYC. “She’s got flies all over her, but she’s OK.“ “That’s her I hear? Oh, I just got goosebumps,“ the dispatcher responds as the baby cries in the background. “Oh my God, me too,“ the caller replies. “I couldn’t give up on this kid. Thank God.“
The toddler, who reportedly “wandered off,“ police told WKBN, was taken to a nearby hospital, where she’s doing well. But in a sad coda to the story, her mother told WKYC Monday that she hasn’t been allowed to see her daughter. “They called me last night around 8:30 [or] 9, children’s services did,“ she says. “They told me that they are taking custody of Rainn ... until the investigation is over. That’s very frustrating. That’s very upsetting because she was at my grandparents’ house when she went missing. I was not there.“ Rainn and her siblings, ages 3 and 4, had reportedly been staying with their great-grandparents for about a month when Rainn went missing.
Scandal Hits the Fantasy Sports World
Two big fantasy sports companies are in damage-control mode after an employee leaked vital data and won big bucks in the same week—stirring fears of corruption in a multibillion-dollar industry, the New York Times reports. Ethan Haskell, who works at DraftKings, admits he mistakenly released information about player lineups that could be used to gain the upper hand in fantasy sports games. He then managed to win $350,000 playing at the site FanDuel. Many employees at such companies also play the games, so if they have crucial data ahead of time, well, you get the idea. “The scary thing is that nothing appears to be in place to stop any employee from obtaining data that is not available to the [everyday] player,“ writes Ben Brown at DFS Report. “That is what has to change.“ (Brown also broke the story at DFS Report.)
Now industry analysts and lawmakers are talking about regulating fantasy sports. “If the industry is unwilling to undertake these reforms voluntarily, it will be imposed on them involuntarily,“ says a sports and gambling lawyer. The companies are allowed to operate under a 2006 federal law that bans online gambling but considers fantasy games contests of skill rather than chance. Yet “if they had to justify themselves at a hearing they wouldn’t be able to,“ says Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey. DraftKings and FanDuel, which told workers to stop playing games for now, say that “nothing is more important ... than the integrity of the games.“ There’s no evidence of abuse, they add, but they still “plan to work with the entire fantasy sports industry on this specific issue.“ (See a breakdown of the facts at Legal Sports Report.)
Russian “volunteers"—like those who helped Moscow seize control of Crimea—could soon be arriving in Syria in numbers large enough to make a big difference to the conflict. Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, chief of the Russian parliament’s defense committee, told reporters on Monday that volunteers who had fought in eastern Ukraine will likely “appear in the ranks of the Syrian army as combat participants,“ reports Reuters, which notes that there have been unconfirmed reports that Russians are already fighting alongside the regime’s forces. Analysts suspect that the next step after the arrival of Russian fighters will be a major ground offensive against insurgent groups, some of them US-backed, reports the New York Times.
Such an offensive would require an “unprecedented” degree of cooperation between the Assad regime, Russia, Iran, and groups like Hezbollah, the Times notes. Russia’s growing involvement in the conflict has also increased cooperation among Assad’s foes, with 41 different insurgent groups—including two US-backed groups, but not ISIS—joining a declaration to attack Russian forces in response to Moscow’s aggression and “occupation,“ the Guardian reports. NATO, meanwhile, has denounced Russia’s violation of Turkish airspace on Saturday as dangerous and “irresponsible behavior,“ with John Kerry saying Turkey could have justifiably shot the Russian jet down, the AP reports. The BBC reports that Turkey says a second violation happened on Sunday.
‘Shady’ Group ‘Played’ Pope During His U.S. Visit
Pope Francis’ encounter with Kim Davis generated much media buzz and some clarification from the Vatican. Now the Daily Beast looks at an anti-LGBT legal group called Liberty Counsel that supported Davis and spun the story in her favor—but the profile is none too flattering. “At the end of the day, the Liberty Counsel is after political expediency,“ writes Brandon Ambrosino under the headline “The Shady Group That Played Pope Francis.“ Attorneys Mathew and Anita Staver, a husband-and-wife team, started the nonprofit in 1989 to give pro bono legal help to anyone “dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family,“ says the Liberty Counsel website. That included Davis, the county clerk who famously refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
After Davis met the Pope, Mat Staver told CBS that Francis “has been following the story of Kim Davis,“ but told Time he only assumed Francis knew her because “her story has been published worldwide.“ Liberty Counsel has made other flubs, like claiming that a massive rally in Peru was held in support of Kim Davis, when it was really a prayer rally from 2014. It has also supported gay conversion therapy discredited by science, and been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. But Mat Staver refutes that, telling the Orlando Sentinel that critics will “smear anyone who doesn’t condone homosexuality.“ Meanwhile, the once-small nonprofit has grown into a major organization that has 10 lawyers and raked in over $4 million in 2013.
2 Win Physics Nobel for Subatomic Particle ‘Flavors’
Takaaki Kajita of Japan and Arthur McDonald of Canada have just become the 200th and 201st Nobel physics laureates for discovering that subatomic particles with almost no mass switch between different “flavors.“ The omnipresent neutrinos are difficult to study because they hardly ever interact with anything else, reports the BBC. Kajita and McDonald measured their properties using large instruments and found the neutrinos change identities, reports the AP. “The discovery has changed our understanding of the innermost workings of matter and can prove crucial to our view of the universe,“ the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said at a press conference in Stockholm.
“There was a eureka moment when we were able to see that neutrinos appeared to change from one type to the other in traveling from the sun to the Earth,“ McDonald, of Queen’s University, said in a phone interview from Canada. He added he’d gotten a call from the committee only 45 minutes earlier, around 4am local time, and the Guardian notes he sounded a little sleepy. He’ll split the $960,000 prize money with Kajita, director of the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research and professor at the University of Tokyo. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry will be awarded on Wednesday.
Snowden: I’m Willing to Serve Prison Time
Edward Snowden, NSA whistleblower on the lam? Indeed, but he’s also willing to return to the US and serve time if authorities will cut him a deal, the Guardian reports. In an interview with the BBC show “Panorama,“ Snowden says he’s offered to make such a plea deal. “I’ve volunteered to go to prison with the government many times,“ he says. “What I won’t do is I won’t serve as a deterrent to people trying to do the right thing in difficult situations.“ In other words, he won’t be tried without a judge and serve at least 30 years under the Espionage Act. “So far they’ve said they won’t torture me, which is a start, I think,“ he adds, per the AP. “But we haven’t gotten much further than that.“
Inside the Historic Free-Trade Pact We Just Agreed To
The United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, and eight more Pacific Rim countries on Monday came to an agreement on a free-trade pact that would kill upward of 18,000 tariffs currently in place on US exports ranging from cars to avocados, in a deal the Washington Post hails as the largest “in a generation.“ The terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnershipwere hashed out over nine days in Atlanta, with an intended Sunday announcement falling through amid continuing debate. What you need to know:
What makes the deal so large? The counties involved (also Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam) represent about 40% of the world’s GDP.
How long has the deal been in the works? Negotiations have occurred over almost eight years, per the New York Times, with the Post terming five of those years as seeing “arduous” debates. President Obama has been pushing the deal as a way to keep China from having an overbearing influence on Pacific trade.
What were some of the final sticking points? Drugs and dairy. US producers of biologic drugs (that is, those made from living organisms) currently have 12 years to keep their data secret so as to ward off cheaper rivals. Australia was the loudest opponent; the compromise provides between five and eight years of data protection. On the dairy front, America will be able to export more dairy to Canada and Japan; we’ll also import more such products from New Zealand.
So is it a go? Not yet. Congress now has 90 days to review the agreement, whose full text won’t be available for as long as a month. That puts the up-or-down vote in early 2016 (February at the earliest, per Politico.) The Wall Street Journal reports that support among Democrats is tepid; as for Republicans, it paints their support as “unpredictable” as they eye the 2016 election. Labor unions, environmentalists, and liberal activists see it as a bad deal for American workers and the planet. Candidates ranging from Donald Trump to Bernie Sanders aren’t fans, either.
What would it mean for Obama? “Legacy-making” and “legacy-defining” are the phrases being trotted out by the media, with the Times summing it up as a potential “capstone for his foreign policy ‘pivot’ toward closer relations with fast-growing eastern Asia, after years of American preoccupation with the Middle East and North Africa.“
The Public Service Commission of West Virginia has ordered natural gas utilities to lower the purchased gas portion of their rates for the upcoming heating season.
The lower interim rates go into effect November 01, 2015. Final rates will be set in early 2016.
Customers of Mountaineer Gas Company will see the purchased gas portion of their bill drop from $6.293 per Mcf to $4.812 per Mcf, a decrease of 23.5%. Customers of Hope Gas Company will see the purchased gas portion of their bill drop from $4.66 per Mcf to $3.252 per Mcf, a decrease of 30.21%.
The Commission does not regulate the price of natural gas; that price is determined by competitive markets. The Commission does examine the gas purchasing practices of gas utilities and ensures the utility did everything possible to obtain a reliable gas supply at the lowest market price.
By law, gas utilities are permitted to recover their costs to purchase natural gas. The gas rates of customers are adjusted annually to account for the cost of gas in a process called a Purchased Gas Adjustment (PGA) proceeding before the Commission. The PGA is an estimate of expected prices utilities will have to pay for gas from their suppliers for the period of November 1 through October 31 of the following year, as well as a “true up” of actual costs for the previous year. The PGA does not include any profit for the utility.
In Many Counties Residents Choose To Raise Their Own Taxes
CHARLESTON, WV — A economics expert told members of the state legislature’s Select Committee on Tax Reform Monday that in many cases state residents have made choices to raise their own property taxes.
Dr. Cal Kent was on the agenda at the state capitol–the latest in more than a half dozen meetings the select committee has held in recent months.
On the subject of property taxes, Kent said only six of the state’s 55 counties are without a voter approved education excess levy. Other counties have school construction bonds, ambulance levies, library levies and fire protection levies approved by voters in elections.
“A lot of these property taxes that people complain about they’ve put on themselves with excess levies,” Kent said.
The numbers show West Virginia as the lowest in the nation when it comes to the owner-occupied residential property taxes, but the various levies increase those.
“That’s where you are getting your bump in property taxes and people think it’s all the responsibility of the state and it’s not,” Kent said.
The select committee also heard Monday from Tax Foundation Policy Analyst Jared Walczak on the subject of property tax reform.
The committee is expected to have some recommendations for the full legislature to consider during next year’s regular session.
Coming Budget Fights Could Reignite Shutdown Standoffs
CHARLESTON, WV - A government shutdown has been delayed at least until December, but a number of budget fights remain. A temporary agreement over funds for Planned Parenthood delayed the shutdown, but battles over automatic spending cuts and a federal debt limit are warming up.
Lindsay Koshgarian, research director with budget watchdog National Priorities Project, says those could turn into shutdown standoffs and the Planned Parenthood issue could return.
Several looming Congressional budget battles
could turn into shutdown standoffs
“There are about 30 members of the House of Representatives who have said that it is so important to them to completely defund Planned Parenthood, that they would be willing to shut down the entire federal government to get that,“ she says.
Koshgarian says Planned Parenthood gets only a tiny sliver of the budget and isn’t the only issue where the budget deadlines have been used for leverage ... issues like immigration and healthcare reform.
Koshgarian says a two-year agreement over automatic spending cuts known as sequestration has expired. She says that threatens funding for the military, education, highway and bridge repair and she says if Congress doesn’t raise the federal debt limit, money for everything could dry up.
“But that’s expected to happen sometime over the next month or two,“ she says. “If that does happen, that would mean the federal government would be unable to borrow any more money, and that could also result in a shutdown of a lot of essential government services.“
Critics say using the budget for leverage creates a self-inflicted crisis. They say there are issues Congress should be dealing with, such as a highway trust fund that’s running out of money. Plus Koshgarian says West Virginia’s wobbly economy could be badly hurt by a shutdown. The state’s citizens get a lot from federal services to vets and the elderly. And she says about 32,000 federal employees actually live here.
“In West Virginia, they earn about seven percent of all of the wages paid in the state. So as you can imagine, it would affect not just those workers, it would also affect the state economy,“ says Koshgarian.
The tactic led to a 17-day shutdown in 2013. Standard and Poors says that shutdown cost the U.S. economy an estimated $24 billion.