James W. McCord Jr., Who Led the Watergate Break-In, Is Dead at 93
He was the first to expose the White House crimes and cover-ups that led to President Nixon’s downfall. His death, almost two years ago, went unreported.
In Divided Washington, Relief and Disappointment at Mueller’s Report
The stoic feelings of progressive Washington were similarly subdued in the city’s more conservative corners.
Trump Ordered Aides to Search for Clinton Emails, While the Russians Already Were Looking
The incident is among the closest that investigators came to finding an instance in which Donald J. Trump appeared to use whatever means necessary to locate the emails.
Trump Says He’s Having a ‘Good Day,’ but Avoids Questions
The president refused to budge from his initial assessment that the Mueller report was a total exoneration of his actions.
CREDC asks businesses to ‘think global’
Global trade opportunities — and trade turmoil caused by tariffs — were the central focus at the Columbia River Economic Development Council’s spring luncheon on Thursday. The theme for the event was “think global,” encouraging local business leaders to consider Clark County’s place in the global economy.
CREDC President Jennifer Baker led a discussion panel at the Heathman Lodge in Vancouver consisting of Slumberkins Marketing Director Vanessa Holfert, United Grain President and CEO Augusto Bassanini, U.S. Commercial Service senior international trade specialist Kellie Holloway and David Kohl, statewide international trade liaison for the Oregon Small Business Development Center Network.
Baker asked the panelists to discuss strategies for how local companies can make sure their products appeal to global markets, and the difficulties of making sure the area achieves global recognition — especially given that Vancouver shares a name with a city in Canada, Washington shares a name with the U.S. capital, and Clark County shares a name with 11 other U.S. counties.
Holloway and Kohl both talked about emphasizing the “undervalued” aspects of the Pacific Northwest such as the climate, lifestyle, and reputation for livability, and Kohl said that too many small businesses don’t take the leap to begin selling globally.
“These days it’s not as daunting as some people might think,” he said.
Holloway also said the Pacific Northwest is an excellent source of service industry products including new intellectual property.
“That’s an export too,” she said.
Bassanini noted that United Grain’s business model is heavily geared toward exports, and said the company maintains an edge against competitors in foreign markets thanks to the quality and reliability of their products.
In particular, he highlighted the popularity of western white wheat — a specific kind of wheat grown primarily in Oregon, Washington and Idaho — in Japan and other Asian markets. The Pacific Northwest also benefits from being the geographically closest producer to Japan, he said — although he cautioned that geography alone isn’t enough.
“It’s imperative to continue to keep up with infrastructure,” he said.
Holfert talked about the marketing approach for the Slumberkins books and plush dolls. A strong social media presence has helped the brand expand globally, she said, and the leaders are working to expand their wholesale and e-commerce efforts to keep up.
Slumberkins is also working with the Jim Henson Co. to develop a TV show featuring the characters that would air on streaming platforms, she said, furthering the global reach. She said the company is being careful to stay focused on its core concept, which is the relationship between children and their caregivers and emotional skill-building for kids.
“We need to make sure the educational point isn’t overridden by the entertainment,” she said.
The company also placed an early emphasis on filing the correct trademarks and security its intellectual property, she said, which has proven to be an important foundation as the brand begins to expand globally.
Baker also asked the panelists about the advantages beyond jobs and exposure that companies can gain by tapping into global markets.
Holloway said that global companies are able to expand faster and are more readily able to ride out turbulent economic periods. One of the biggest advantages for food producers is global seasonality, she said, which allows producers to have more consistent production systems instead of having to ramp up at a specific times of year.
Baker asked about strategies in response to a current lack of predictability in U.S. trade policy, and Bassanini pointed to the need to find multiple export markets for products, citing his own company’s experiences with soybeans.
“Of all the trade disputes that are ongoing today, China is probably the one that has impacted our industry the most,” he said.
China is the world’s largest soybean importer, he said, and about 45 percent of its soybeans used to come from the United States.
But soybean exports to China have dropped by about 70 percent due to tariffs, he said, so United Grain had to find alternate export destinations such as Spain, Bangladesh and Vietnam.
The adjustments have worked in the short term, he said, but the long term concern in the industry is that China will begin looking for alternative soybean suppliers, making it more difficult for United Grain and other U.S. exporters to re-enter the Chinese market after the trade dispute is resolved.
Abolition of death penalty won’t happen in 2019. House Democrats cite other priorities
A bill to eliminate the death penalty from Washington’s statutes won’t reach the governor’s desk to become law this year.
The Senate passed a death-penalty abolition bill on Feb. 15 by a 28-19 margin, but the House did not vote on it by Wednesday’s deadline for non-budget bills to pass from the opposite chamber.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who requested that legislators pass the bill, said Thursday the House had enough votes for approval.
“Simply put, the votes are there. We provided House leadership with a bipartisan list of 54 members committed to voting to abolish Washington’s death penalty. There’s no other way to put it — I’m extremely disappointed,” said Ferguson, a Democrat who is exploring a possible run for governor if Jay Inslee does not seek a third term.
Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, said the bill did have “considerable support” in the Democratic-controlled chamber,” but she noted that the “death penalty is illegal at this time” and holding off until next year to vote didn’t involve any risk.
She said House Democratic leaders had to set priorities. Those included passing bills so that individuals no longer will receive life prison sentences under the “three strikes” law and parents can sue for the wrongful death of their adult children.
“These have an impact immediately in the next year on people’s lives,” said Stonier, the Majority Floor Leader.
Sen. Reuven Carlyle, the Seattle Democrat who was the lead sponsor of SB 5339, said 54 was the minimum number of House members who would have voted yes on the bill. He blamed House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, for not bringing it to a vote by Wednesday’s deadline. The bill also died in the House last year after the Senate approved it.
“This decision rests squarely and unequivocally on the desk of the Speaker. It’s his choice, his decision, and his silence has been deafening,” Carlyle said.
Stonier said House Democratic leaders make many decisions on which bills to bring to the floor as a team, and “some of them, I think, the Speaker makes in his position.”
“As Floor Leader, I can tell you if I had run that bill as much as I really would have liked to and as much as I advocated and pushed to find ways to do it, some other priorities may not have made it off the floor this year,” she said.
The state Supreme Court last year struck down the death penalty law because it was imposed in an “arbitrary and racially biased manner.” The high court stressed that the law — not the death penalty itself — was unconstitutional. The ruling left open the possibility that the Legislature might enact a “carefully drafted” statute to impose capital punishment in this state, but it cannot create a system that offends constitutional rights, Chief Justice Mary E. Fairhurst wrote.
Carlyle’s bill was intended to slam the door shut on that possibility.
The bill would have codified the Supreme Court’s decision and current practice, which is to sentence those convicted of aggravated first-degree murder to life in prison without the possibility of release or parole. If the measure had become law, legislators also wouldn’t have been able to amend the death penalty statute. Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro Woolley, tried to do that earlier this year, but his bill never got out of committee.
The last execution in Washington state was in 2010 when the state used lethal injection to put Cal Brown to death for the 1991 murder of a Seattle woman. In 2014, Inslee declared a moratorium on capital punishment. The Democratic majorities in the House and Senate are opposed to the death penalty.
When the House Public Safety Committee approved the death penalty bill on April 1, Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said lawmakers needed to remove any “uncertainty” about the death penalty’s legal status.
“I do believe that the Legislature should have the last word on this matter, because the Legislature is vested solely with the authority to establish sentences for crimes. My position is that the death penalty should not be an option,” said Goodman, who is the committee chairman.
Rep. Jenny Graham, R-Spokane, was among the GOP members who voted against the death penalty bill in committee. Graham took the oath of office in January on the Bible of her sister, Debra, who was murdered by the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway.
“If not for the death penalty, Washington state would not have ever gotten the answers surrounding the most prolific serial killer case in U.S. history. That is an inarguable fact. I take offense to some people saying the death penalty doesn’t work,” she said.
An aide said Graham was unavailable for comment Thursday.
In a Feb. 23 op-ed in The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review, Graham wrote that in order to avoid the death penalty, Ridgway agreed in a plea deal with the King County prosecutor to disclose the locations of many of his victims who were missing.
“Victims’ families were finally able to give their loved ones a proper burial,” Graham wrote.
Twenty states and the District of Columbia do not have the death penalty, either by legislative action or court decision, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit group. It’s unclear how many of those 21 jurisdictions without the death penalty also have the law still on their books like Washington.
Carlyle said he expects the bill will pass next year if there’s new House speaker takes over. Chopp, the state’s longest-serving speaker, announced last year he would step down from his leadership position after this year’s legislative session but would remain a House member.
T-Mobile launches checking account
T-Mobile entered the mobile banking market Thursday with a checking account that consumers can manage on their smartphones.
The third-largest U.S. wireless carrier has partnered with BankMobile, a division of Customers Bank, to offer the mobile-focused checking account, called T-Mobile MONEY. The account is geared toward consumers who prefer banking digitally, allowing customers to send and deposit checks, pay bills and transfer money from a mobile app.
The phone company’s checking account launch comes as more consumers rely on their mobile phones to do basic banking services. T-Mobile’s move follows tech giant Apple, which said weeks ago that it is partnering with Goldman Sachs to issue a credit card.
An October 2018 survey from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. found that a little over 40 percent of U.S. households with a bank account used mobile devices to access their accounts, nearly double the 23.2 percent four years earlier. Online banking was used by 63 percent of households, according to the survey of more than 35,000 households.
T-Mobile is marketing the MONEY app as a free alternative to traditional checking accounts. The accounts come with no minimum balance or monthly fees, and consumers can withdraw up to $50 more than what’s in their account without facing a penalty, so long as the account balance is made positive within 30 days. Single charges that overdraft more than $50 will be declined, a T-Mobile spokesperson said.
T-Mobile postpaid customers can get a 4 percent Annual Percentage Yield on balances up to $3,000 and earn 1 percent on every dollar over $3,000, if they sign up with their T-Mobile ID accounts and deposit at least $200 each month. Those who aren’t T-Mobile customers can earn 1 percent APY on all balances.
T-Mobile MONEY comes with a Mastercard debit card that consumers can use without paying a surcharge at more than 55,000 Allpoint ATMs worldwide. The T-Mobile MONEY app is available nationwide on Android and Apple devices and comes to Puerto Rico later this year.
T-Mobile is awaiting regulatory approval of its $26 billion deal to buy Sprint Inc., the nation’s fourth largest carrier. The merger would create a 127-million customer company.
Sears sues former CEO Lampert
Sears Holdings Corp. has filed a lawsuit against its former chairman and CEO, Edward Lampert, and his hedge fund, claiming they wrongly siphoned $2 billion in assets from the company as it headed for bankruptcy.
“Had defendants not taken these illegal and improper actions, Sears would have had billions of dollars more to pay its third-party creditors today and would not have endured the amount of disruption, expense, and job losses resulting from its recent bankruptcy filing,” lawyers for the company wrote in a court filing.
The lawsuit was filed by the team winding down what remains of Sears’ business after Lampert purchased the majority of its remaining assets in a bankruptcy auction and earlier this year and formed a new company out of those assets.
The complaint, filed Wednesday in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York, seeks to recover property that was allegedly fraudulently transferred.
The lawsuit also names former Sears directors and ESL executives and directors including U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a former investor and executive at ESL, and Kunal Kamlani, president of ESL and a former Sears director, as defendants, as well as Sears shareholder Fairholme Capital Management and its founder Bruce Berkowitz.
Representatives for Lampert and ESL could not immediately be reached for comment. Fairholme said it is in the process of reviewing the filings.
The lawsuit claims Lampert directed employees to produce “fanciful, bad-faith” financial projections while designing transactions that allegedly unfairly benefited Lampert, ESL and other defendants. Those transactions involved Orchard Supply Hardware Stores, Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores, Sears Canada, Lands’ End and Sears’ real estate investment trust spinoff, Seritage Growth Properties.
ESL has said all its deals with Sears had the approval of the company’s board. But the committee tasked with overseeing transactions involving potential conflicts of interests failed to protect Sears and its creditors, attorneys said in the lawsuit.
Lawyers for Sears claimed the 2015 spinoff of 266 of Sears’ best-performing stores into Seritage Growth Properties was designed to benefit Seritage at Sears’ expense. The real estate was undervalued by at least $649 million, according to the lawsuit, and terms allowing Sears to lease back space were unfair to the retailer, according to the complaint.
The terms ensured “that Sears would continue to pay Seritage rent, even for unprofitable stores, and that Seritage could invest those funds in redevelopments that ousted Sears from its most profitable stores,” attorneys said in the complaint.
Lampert is both an investor in Seritage and its chairman.
Lampert’s and ESL’s initial attempts to buy the retailer out of bankruptcy sought to guarantee they would not be held liable for controversial transactions the hedge fund made with Sears. Following opposition from a committee of unsecured creditors, ESL’s successful $5.2 billion bid dropped that requirement.
A hearing on the wind-down plan has been scheduled for May 16.
Walmart, Amazon kick off SNAP initiative
NEW YORK — Amazon and Walmart on Thursday kicked off a two-year government pilot program allowing low-income shoppers on government food assistance in New York to shop and pay for their groceries online for the first time.
ShopRite will join the two retailers on the program early next week, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
The USDA has long required customers using electronic benefits transfer, or EBT, pay for their purchases at the actual time and place of sale. So the move marks the first time SNAP customers can pay for their groceries online.
ShopRite and Amazon are providing the service to the New York City area, and Walmart is providing the service online in upstate New York locations. The agency said the pilot will eventually expand to other areas of New York as well as Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.
The pilot program will test both online ordering and payment. SNAP participants will be able to use their benefits to purchase eligible food items but will not be able to use SNAP to pay for service or delivery charges, the agency said.
“People who receive SNAP benefits should have the opportunity to shop for food the same way more and more Americans shop for food — by ordering and paying for groceries online,” said USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. “As technology advances, it is important for SNAP to advance too, so we can ensure the same shopping options are available for both non-SNAP and SNAP recipients.”
Perdue said he will be monitoring how the pilot program increases food access and customer service, specifically for those who have trouble visiting physical stores.
Roughly 38 million individuals receive food stamps in the U.S., according to the USDA. Nearly $52 billion, or 82 percent of all food stamp dollars, were spent at big box stores and grocery chains in 2017, according to the most recent USDA data.
The 2014 Farm Bill authorized the USDA to conduct and evaluate a pilot program for online purchasing prior to national implementation. The USDA says the move was intended to ensure online transactions are processed safely and securely.
Seattle-based Amazon said those who qualify don’t need to be Prime members to buy groceries with their benefits. They’ll get free access to its AmazonFresh service, which delivers meat, dairy and fresh produce to shoppers’ doorsteps. And they’ll also be able to use Prime Pantry, which delivers packaged goods like cereal and canned food.
However, they’ll need to spend over a certain amount to qualify for free shipping: $50 at AmazonFresh and $25 at Amazon.com. The online shopping giant launched a website, amazon.com/snap, where people can check if they qualify. Amazon said it’s working with the USDA to expand service to other parts of New York state.
Amazon.com Inc. was on the initial list for the government pilot program, and Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart Inc. made the list later. The world’s largest retailer, however, in late 2017 had started allowing customers in limited locations to order items through its online grocery pickup service and then pay for it in person at the stores.
“Access to convenience and to quality, fresh groceries shouldn’t be dictated by how you pay,” Walmart said. “This pilot program is a great step forward, and we are eager to expand this to customers in other states where we already have a great online grocery.”
Walmart said that nearly 300 locations with grocery pickup in the states will be part of the USDA government program.
Mass graves from Franco era become Spanish election issue
PATERNA, Spain — When archaeologists in Spain unearthed layers of human bones from a mass grave last year, the remains of one body emerged draped in a shirt that had the letters “MG” embroidered on it in red.
The initials spoke volumes to Daniel Gal?n.
They sparked hope he would be able to provide a proper burial for his grandfather, Miguel Gal?n, a village mayor who disappeared eight decades ago along with tens of thousands of others summarily executed by the forces of Gen. Francisco Franco during and after the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War.
Gal?n is among a small number of descendants promised provincial government funds for DNA tests to confirm that their ancestors were tossed into a mass grave at Paterna Cemetery in Valencia. But with Spain’s national election later this month exposing an ideological divide that has echoes of the clash of left and right during the civil war, some Spaniards worry they may lose the chance to recover their dead.
The far-right Vox party, which recently exploded onto Spain’s political scene, wants to scrap efforts to exhume and identify Franco’s victims. Its ambition counters the pledge by the ruling Socialists to remove Franco’s remains from a huge, publicly maintained mausoleum near Madrid so they no longer attract nationalists celebrating the dictator as a hero.
“Depending on who wins, logically there would be a change. If the right wins, well, all this will just stop or worse,” Gal?n, 61, said while visiting Paterna Cemetery to repair the grainy black-and-white photo of his grandfather, which had fallen off the headstone.
For other Spaniards, digging up bodies just stirs up a painful past unnecessarily and runs counter to the desire for reconciliation that made it possible for Spain to have a bloodless transition from dictatorship to democracy after Franco’s death in 1975. They also fear that the exhumations could lead to a shaming of those who had relatives on the side of Franco*s right-wing forces.
“I think that that period of history was settled,” Elena Escribano, a 60-year-old housewife, said at a Vox rally. “Not knowing where a relative is is hard, but there are victims on both sides. We must pray for them but we must look to the future.”
Activists and relatives pushed for the excavations after the then-Socialist government passed the 2007 Law of Historical Memory, which allowed exhumations of mass graves and condemned atrocities committed during Franco’s regime. But the law did not guarantee funding, and the conservative Popular Party that governed between 2011 and 2018 included none in the national budget.
The result is a piecemeal and sometimes cumbersome process.
At Paterna, the precarious funding scheme and a backlog of work meant the remains of 244 people — Gal?n’s grandfather possibly among them — ended up being stored in a ceramics museum.
Rosa P?rez, a local lawmaker who championed funding for families to exhume mass graves at Paterna Cemetery and other sites in the province of Valencia, has promised that money will be there to carry out forensic and DNA tests on the bones stored in the museum regardless of who wins the April 28 national election.
But P?rez is putting on hold any spending for new exhumations until after regional and local elections this month and next to see if her United Left party remains in power locally. So far, archaeologists have removed the remains of 450 of the 2,237 bodies thought to be in the mass graves at the Paterna Cemetery.
“This shouldn’t be how this is being handled,” P?rez said. “We have been in need of a national plan for a long time.”
Experts have estimated for the Spanish government that 740 mass graves and 9,000 bodies have been exhumed nationally since 2000. That leaves an estimated 114,000 bodies still hidden in 2,500 mass graves, they added.
The Socialist government of Prime Minister Pedro S?nchez wanted to include 15 million euros ($20 million) in the national budget that failed to pass this year to continue identifying victims of Franco’s regime. It has also mentioned establishing a “truth commission” to investigate the crimes of his dictatorship, and is studying a plan to have 25,000 bodies exhumed in five years.
But S?nchez faces strong competition in the April 28 national election, at which the far-right Vox is widely anticipated to win its first seats in the Spanish Parliament.
Vox has already successfully pushed the Popular Party to commit to rolling back regional laws that allow the exhumations of mass graves in Spain’s south in order to support their formation of a government for Andalusia earlier this year.
Now, Vox could prove influential in the creation of possible coalition government at the national level after the election.
Popular Party president and opposition leader, Pablo Casado, who in 2015 called those who want to recover the mass grave bodies “old fogeys,” wants a new “Law of Concord” that would subsume the Law of Historical Memory.
The leader of Vox, Santiago Abascal, criticized the exhumations when he kicked off his campaign.
“How are we going to condemn our grandparents?” Abascal asked supporters. “For us, we only have one doctrine for the recent historical memory. And that is liberty: liberty for you to respect your grandparents.”
Outside the walls of the Paterna Cemetery, a walk through scrubland leads to a wall in which bullet holes from the Francoist firing squads that executed people like Miguel Gal?n still are visible.
Gal?n insists he does not want to drag Spain back into its bloody past.
“The difference is between them lying in mass graves like rotting dogs and being able to take them and give them dignified burial,” Gal?n said. “For those who say we are only reopening old wounds, that is not true, because these wounds have been open for 80 years.”