Monthly Archives: October 2017

Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension is set to start this weekend after judge’s latest ruling

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Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    After a long back-and-forth, it looks like Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension will start on Sunday. If the suspension stands, Elliott won’t be eligible to return until December 17 when the Cowboys face the Oakland Raiders.

After months of appeals and decisions from different courts, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott will reportedly begin his six game suspension on Sunday.

On Monday, Judge Katherine Polk Failla denied the NFLPA’s request for a preliminary injunction, staying the decision for 24 hours to allow Elliott and his legal team to consider its options. On Tuesday, the NFLPA filed an appeal in the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals on Elliott’s behalf. It is unclear how long that appeal process will take.

Unless the court decides to take action sooner, Elliott will be out until the Cowboys game against the Oakland Raiders on December 17. According to ESPN NFL Insider Dan Graziano, this is the most likely outcome at this point, though he cautioned that the “courts are unpredictable in such matters.”

Elliott was initially suspended on August 11 after the NFL’s year-long investigation into domestic violence allegations against the Cowboys running back. Since the decision, Elliott has maintained his innocence and fought to appeal the suspension. While Elliott was granted a preliminary injunction that allowed him to start the season in the Cowboys lineup, this most recent ruling looks to be decisive, at least for now.

Elliott currently sits at third in the league among with 690 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns on the year.

House Republicans are delaying the rollout of their massive tax reform bill

House Speaker Paul Ryan

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House Speaker Paul Ryan
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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

    House Republican leaders are delaying the rollout of their massive tax reform bill until Thursday. The bill was originally scheduled for release on Wednesday, but tax writers still have not made decisions on key issues. This is the first substantive delay for the GOP, which is pushing an aggressive timeline to pass legislation.

House GOP leaders are pushing back the release of their massive tax reform bill until Thursday due to unresolved decisions on key issues.

Rep. Kevin Brady, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and chief tax writer, planned to roll out the bill on Wednesday in order to try and get the bill passed through the House before the week-long Thanksgiving break.

According to the reports, GOP tax writers are still trying to hash out various details in the plan, including possible changes to 401(k) retirement accounts and the income level at which the top marginal tax rate will kick in.

This would be the first substantial delay for Republican leaders, who are trying to get the tax bill to President Donald Trump’s desk by Christmas.

It should not seriously throw the bill’s timeline off track, as a markup of the bill in the Ways and Means Committee is still scheduled for Monday.

There are still substantial issues to be worked out, according to reports, mostly centered on how leaders plan to offset the massive tax cuts in the plan.

For instance, a proposed top marginal tax rate of 39.6% is set to be included in the bill, but whether it will apply to people making more than $750,000 annually or $1 million has not been finalized.

Another issue still under debate is proposed changes to 401(k) retirement savings plans, which have been the subject of a back and forth between the White House and the House GOP over the past week. Trump tweeted that there would be “NO changes to your 401k” after reports circulated that Republicans were considering a cap on how much could be contributed to traditional, tax-deferred accounts.

Brady released a statement on the delay later Wednesday:

“Ways and Means Committee Members met tonight to discuss the work we are doing on pro-growth tax reform. In consultation with President Trump and our leadership team, we have decided to release the bill text on Thursday. We are pleased with the progress we are making and we remain on schedule to take action and approve a bill at our Committee beginning next week.”

29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov identified as suspect in New York terror attack, reportedly left note pledging ISIS loyalty

    29-year-old Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov of Tampa, Florida, has been identified as the suspect in the deadly terror attack in Manhattan on Tuesday. The attack left at least eight people dead and injured many others. Saipov is reportedly an Uzbek national who came to the US in 2010. He reportedly left a note claiming he carried out the attack in the name of ISIS.

The suspect in the deadly terror attack in lower Manhattan that left at least eight people dead left a note claiming he carried out the attack in the name of the Islamic State, senior law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

29-year-old Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov of Tampa, Florida, was reported to have legally resided in the US starting in 2010 and worked as a commercial truck driver, according to NBC News. Preliminary reports suggested Saipov, an Uzbek national, did not have an extensive criminal record, but he was reportedly stopped by police on multiple occasions for traffic violations.

In addition to being a legal permanent resident in Tampa, Saipov reportedly lived in Cincinnati and Paterson, New Jersey, according to a law enforcement official who spoke to ABC News. The official said Saipov lived in New Jersey with his wife and three children, ABC News reported.

Multiple reports, citing state records, indicated that Saipov had registered two automotive-related businesses in Ohio between 2011 and 2013, one of them a trucking company.

Saipov was an active driver for Uber, making over 1,400 trips in six months, according to a company statement. Uber also said it was assisting law enforcement with its investigation and confirmed Saipov had passed a background check with the company.

Police and government officials did not publicly identify the suspect earlier Tuesday. But local and federal officials said at a press conference that the suspect deliberately mowed down cyclists and pedestrians in a rented Home Depot pickup truck, killing eight and injuring 12. Police said the suspect drove 10 blocks in the wrong direction before striking a school bus.

CNN reported, according to a person familiar with the ongoing investigation, Saipov rented the truck in New Jersey on Tuesday.

Video appears to show suspectin NYC truck attack running outside of his vehicle and then beingtaken into custody https://t.co/IML42gnQN1 pic.twitter.com/dX8F6RcY9T

https://t.co/IML42gnQN1pic.twitter.com/dX8F6RcY9TOctober 31, 2017

He then exited the vehicle, brandished a paintball gun and pellet gun, and was subsequently shot in the abdomen by a police officer, according to New York Police Department commissioner James O’Neill.

“This is a tragedy of the greatest magnitude,” O’Neill said.

“This was an act of terror, and a particularly cowardly act of terror,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference, “aimed at innocent civilians, aimed at people going about their lives who had no idea what was about to hit them.”

Multiple news agencies reported that Saipov shouted “Allahu Akbar,” which translates to “God is great” in Arabic, as he exited the rented truck.

“Yeah, he did make a statement when he exited the vehicle. And if you just look at the M-O of the attack – that’s consistent with what’s been going on. So, that, along with the statement that’s enabled us to label this a terrorist event,” O’Neill said.

News agencies also reported that Saipov left a note inside his truck pledging loyalty to the Islamic State. ISIS propaganda materials have called for similarly styled attacks, using a vehicle as a weapon and leaving notes that proclaim loyalty to the terrorist organization.

New York Times correspondent Rukmini Callimachi noted that ISIS had put out posters calling for attacks on Halloween. However, the terrorist organization has not yet claimed responsibility for the attack, Callimachi reported.

Following news of the incident, President Donald Trump called the suspect a “very sick and deranged person” and appeared to suggest attribution to the Islamic State.

“We must not allow ISIS to return, or enter, our country after defeating them in the Middle East and elsewhere,” Trump tweeted. “Enough!

Saipov was out of surgery from an undisclosed hospital, sources said to CNN late Tuesday.

The first College Football Playoff ranking is out and there are 2 big surprises

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Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The first College Football Playoff ranking is out and there are two big surprises in the top four.

The first surprise is at the top of the rankings where Georgia is ranked No. 1 over fellow SEC powerhouse Alabama, who is ranked second. The other big surprise is Notre Dame ranked third, despite already suffering one loss, and erasing any doubt about whether they belong among the top four teams as of this week.

The defending national champs Clemson are fourth, with Oklahoma and Ohio State as the first two on the outside, looking in.

Here is what the playoff would look like if the season were to end today (via ESPN). The full ranking can be seen below.

College Football Playoff

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ESPN

The other big takeaway from the initial ranking is that the Pac-12 is probably already eliminated from playoff contention. Washington is the last hope from the Pac-12 with fewer than two losses and they are ranked 12th.

Wisconsin and Miami, two undefeated teams from Power 5 conferences are also seemingly in a little bit of trouble, ranked ninth and tenthm repsectively.

Here is the full ranking:

College Football Playoff

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College Football Playoff

Forbes is shutting down its opinion section

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Forbes Opinion

    Forbes is shutting down its opinion section. The publication will focus on its contributor network.

Forbes is shutting down its opinion section as it leans further into its wide network of online contributors.

In an internal email to staff obtained by Business Insider, Forbes Media vice president Mark Coatney said the publication would eliminate its opinion section entirely, focusing instead on its “core units,” and network of non-staff writers who contribute opinion pieces.

“We have decided to end this section entirely on Forbes,” Coatney said. “As we strive to tell stories that have a point of view, the need for a conventional opinion-style writing has lessened.”

“Going forward, while we’re always looking for stories with a point of view, we want those stories to be relevant to our core editorial mission, and grounded in reporting and fact. Some former Opinion contributors will be staying with us and contributing to other sections, while others will be finishing their time as contributors. We thank all of them for their work over the years.”

Coatney added that the publication was focusing its energies on the contributor model which “drives forbes.com,” and said that the site had approved the contributor network – which consists of almost 2,000 non-staff writers who have occasionally caused the publication massive headaches – has “become less and less of an issue.”

According to the memo, opinion section editor Avik Roy will remain on staff as a contributor in the policy field.

The publication appeared to make several tweaks on Tuesday.

Contributor Richard Miniter lamented to Page Six that the magazine cut his column on the Middle East, saying that Forbes couldn’t stomach his writing on Qatar.

The US auto market is about to surprise everybody

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Ford

    Automakers will report October US sales on Wednesday. The monthly sales pace is expected to be better than last year’s final record total of 17.55 million. Profitable pickups and SUVs continue to drive the market.

This was supposed to be the year that the US auto sales boom finally ran out of gas.

After consecutive record-breaking years, with 17.5 million vehicles sold in 2015 and 17.55 million in 2016, the total in 2017 after a mid-year lag appeared as though it might dip below 17 million. A big drop to 15 million wasn’t in the cards, but the sales pace fell to around 16.5 million.

Then two hurricanes in a row slammed into Texas and Florida and sent consumers back to the showrooms to replace destroyed or damaged vehicles.

But the dynamics of the market also proved more resilient than expected. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg now expect October US sales when reported on Wednesday to show a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) of 17.6 million.

The late surge has caught everyone by surprise. Automakers have been calling the sales cycle “mature” for almost two years now, and market observers are now looking at 2017 sales that have an outside chance of besting 2016’s total for a third record year.

There aren’t enough months remaining for sales to collapse, so another strong year now seems nearly certain.

The industry overall is happy to see the cycle extended. What’s selling are pickups and crossovers, highly profitable vehicles for the automakers. Low-profit small cars have fallen out of favor, perhaps permanently.

That might sound bad, but it’s actually good. A sales downturn will arrive at some point, and if carmakers are selling vehicles with good margins, it won’t matter if they sell fewer of them.

How a prominent Democratic lobbyist got swept up in Mueller’s Russia probe

    Tony Podesta stepped down from his lobbying firm after it was found to be in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The Podesta Group had worked with Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, on lobbying the US government to legitimize former Russian-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Podesta himself claims he was unaware he was working on behalf of Yanukovych, and did not disclose his firm’s operations to federal regulators.

A big-shot lobbyist and Democratic donor has gotten caught up in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation because of his firm’s ties to the lobbying organization led by President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Tony Podesta, who stepped down from his position as the head of the lobbying firm the Podesta Group on Monday, reportedly worked with Manafort’s lobbying firm that had sought to ease the Obama administration’s tough stance toward Ukraine’s Russian-backed government.

He is now being investigated by Mueller for failing to properly disclose these efforts to regulators.

The Mueller investigation had initially only delved into the Podesta Group’s activities to gather facts on Manafort, whose indictment was announced yesterday, but then began to investigate the Podesta Group itself after it became apparent that it had failed to disclose that it was lobbying in the US on behalf of a foreign actor, a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates were also charged with failing to disclose their activities to FARA regulators, in addition to several other federal offenses.

According to Manafort’s indictment, he and Gates created a think tank in Brussels, Belgium called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECMU), which then solicited lobbying services from two companies that were only identified in the indictment documents as companies “A” and “B.” The companies were later revealed to be the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs, according to NBC News.

Manafort used the Podesta Group and Mercury as part of a two-pronged strategy he was pursuing as a consultant for the Ukrainian Party of Regions, which was the ruling party during the tenure of ousted Russian-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Because Manafort had been initially hired to elect Yanukovych, once he achieved this in 2010, he began a campaign to legitimize him in the eyes of the US and the European Union by portraying him as angling to join the European bloc.

While the first part of his strategy was focused on improving Yanukovych’s image in Ukraine, the second part involved lobbying the US to overlook the president’s human rights abuses and to view him as a Western-leaning leader, the Associated Press reported.

To this end, the traditionally left-leaning Podesta Group lobbied members of Congress “about Ukraine sanctions, the validity of Ukraine elections” and the validity of the jailing of Yanukovych’s political rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, according to the indictment papers. The group also had extensive contacts with the State Department and the National Security Council in 2012 in the lead-up to the Ukrainian elections that year.

“They were pretty open about their purpose being to give a positive perspective on the upcoming election,” a former State Department employee told CNN.

Over the course of several years, the ECMU paid the Podesta Group $1.13 million to lobby Congress, according to the AP. Podesta, however, claims he was not aware that the ECMU was working for a foreign government and did not file a disclosure under FARA due to legal opinions attorneys gave him. However, Manafort and Gates both roundly acknowledged that they were in Yanukovych’s employ, as did several Podesta employees. After the group’s failure to disclose their foreign employers was reported in the media, Podesta amended their previous disclosures and provided details of their financial ties to foreign actors under FARA, and documented their lobbying in Congress and in the executive branch, according to CNN.

Tony Podesta is the brother of John Podesta, the former campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. While John Podesta used to be involved in lobbying, he is not affiliated with the Podesta Group. However, he has received numerous donations from his brother, who has been a donor for a wide swath of Democratic causes.

Facebook’s top lawyer admitted they should have caught Russian ads earlier but said foreign currency isn’t enough to act on

Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch.

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Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch.
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Getty

    US senators grilled Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch on Tuesday about why the company didn’t catch Russia-linked fake accounts on its platform sooner. Stretch admitted “there were signals we missed,” like the use of Russian rubles to purchase political ads. He said that Facebook had no knowledge of any outside help the Russian actors could have had to target members of its 2-billion-user network.

Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch told lawmakers on Tuesday that the company should have done more to prevent Russia-backed propaganda from spreading on its platform around the 2016 US presidential election.

“I think in hindsight, we should have had a broader lens,” he said with regard to Facebook’s efforts to weed out politically-charged ads from fake accounts. “There were signals we missed.”

Along with representatives from Google and Twitter, Facebook’s Stretch appeared Tuesday before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary to testify about state-sponsored meddling in US politics through social networks.

At one point during the contentious two-and-a-half-hour hearing, Senator Al Franken pressed Stretch to explain why Facebook took nearly a full year to disclose that Russian-affiliated actors had paid for targeted, politically-charged ads in rubles.

“Mr. Stretch, how did Facebook, which prides itself on being able to process billions of data points and instantly transform them into personal connections for its users, somehow not make the connection that electoral ads paid for in rubles were not coming from Russia?” Franken asked.

“It’s a signal we should have been alert to, and in hindsight, it’s one we missed,” said Stretch.

“You were the canary in the coal mine”

Senator Al Franken.

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Senator Al Franken.
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Getty

Franken called Facebook “the canary in the coal mine” for Russia’s 2016 efforts to sway political opinion in the US through internet propaganda, a revelation that has led some senators to propose legislation that would force the disclosure of who paid for political ads online.

He asked Stretch if Facebook would be willing, in light of its Russian ads, to block political ads from being purchased with foreign currencies like the North Korean won.

While Stretch said Facebook prohibited “political advertising by foreign actors,” he declined to say whether the company would keep certain currencies from being used to purchase political ads. “It’s a signal, but it’s not enough,” he said.

“My goal is for you to think through this stuff a little better,” Franken said at a more heated moment in the exchange.

Another member of the subcommittee, Senator Richard Blumenthal, asked Stretch if he knew whether any other parties, like a political campaign, helped the Russian-affiliated Internet Research Agency target the posts that Facebook estimated to have reached 126 million Americans.

“We’re not able to essentially see behind the accounts,” said Stretch. “All we’re able to get is the targeting information, which we’ve provided to the committee.”

Since Facebook disclosed in September that fake, Russia-linked accounts purchased ads on its platform, reports have shown how Russia-backed operatives used the social network to spread fake news, sow divisiveness, and even organize real-world political protests.

Facebook has roughly 10,000 staffers working on safety and security issues and it said it plans to double that headcount by the end of 2018.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Stretch revealed that most of the Russia-backed ads were used to drive more followers to affiliated Facebook pages that shared unpaid posts. Researchers have estimated that so-called organic posts by Russian actors reached significantly more people than online ads.

Browns once again missed out on a quarterback after botching trade with Bengals in embarrassing fashion

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Jason Miller/Getty Images

    The Browns had worked out a deal with the Bengals to acquire quarterback A.J. McCarron just before the trade deadline. Cleveland failed to submit the trade on time, making the deal void and leaving their quarterback carousel just as precarious as it was at the start of the day. It’s only the latest in a series of quarterback failures that has haunted the franchise since its return to Cleveland.

It didn’t seem possible, but somehow, the Cleveland Browns quarterback situation found a way to become even more depressing.

On Tuesday as the NFL trade deadline was approaching, the Browns and the Bengals were working out a deal to send Bengals backup A.J. McCarron to Cleveland.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the deal was agreed upon by both sides, but in a move that seemingly only the Browns would be capable of, the team did not submit the deal in time to beat the 4:00 pm deadline.

To make matters worse, a follow up from Schefter would reveal that the Bengals had submitted the trade on time, meaning responsibility for the missed opportunity rested solely on the shoulders of the Cleveland franchise.

The Browns were reportedly offering the Bengals a second and third round pick for McCarronmore than the Patriots received for giving up coveted backup Jimmy Garoppolo. While McCarron is a solid player, Garoppolo has been studying under Tom Brady and Bill Belichick for years, and is widely considered a future star.

The Browns’ quarterback situation is an ongoing mess and has been since the team came back to Cleveland in 1999. In the 18 years of football since, 28 players have lined up under center for the Browns, and many have been named the next great savior of the franchise – Johnny Manziel, Brady Quinn, Colt McCoy, and most recently, DeShone Kizer.

Cleveland has handled them all terribly, most recently benching, starting, and then benching Kizer again to a point where he can’t be sure what faith the team has in him going forward. Now, this failed trade will only add to any doubts already there. The Browns have also passed on multiple opportunities to draft players that would eventually become starting quarterbacks with bright futures, including Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson

Wall Street couldn’t be more wrong about Ford’s business

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Ford

    Ford’s business has arguably never been better. But Morgan Stanley analysts Adam Jonas thinks a massive restructuring is needed. Ford’s challenge is to tell a story that investors will buy into, as they have with Tesla and Uber.

Ford has beaten analysts’ earnings expectations every quarter of 2017 and is currently paying a whopping 5% total dividend yield. It also has almost $40 billion in cash.

You might not be able to accept that the carmaker is financially well-managed, but even then any obvious weaknesses (like South America) are currently being more than offset by the company’s incredibly solid and highly profitable pickup-truck business in the US.

This doesn’t look like an enterprise in need of a turnaround, and even the laggy share price, down 2.5% year-to-date while a peer such as GM is up over 20% and upstart Tesla is up 50%, could be seen as a buying opportunity.

But in a research note published Tuesday, Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas argued that a turnaround is exactly what Ford needs.

“We think something has to give at Ford and strongly believe senior management understands the enormity of the challenges ahead,” he wrote.

He then dived into 12 of what he called “restructuring” actions, including exiting the European market, exiting the South American market, effectively exiting the Chinese market by giving up Ford’s joint venture there, and turning luxury brand Lincoln into some kind of Uber-copy.

Not a great year on Wall Street.

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Not a great year on Wall Street.
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Markets Insider

Desperate moves

Many of these moves would be those of a desperate company, not one that’s sitting on enough cash to stay in business for a major sales downturn and that could sell close to a million money-printing F-Series pickups this year.

Jonas is one of Wall Street’s more interesting thinkers when it comes to future of mobility, and he did bump his target price for Ford to $10 from $9 (shares are now trading at $12), but he’s clearly a man in search of a story when it comes to the carmaker.

Ford’s story, typically, isn’t all that exciting. It rises and falls on pickups and SUVs. But those vehicles supply balance-sheet sturdiness in good times and have equipped the company to move forward with a lot of R&D and acquisitions to stay relevant in the transportation landscape of the future.

Of course, Jonas could be taking his cues from Ford’s new CEO, Jim Hackett, who has focused on the need to make Ford “fit” – his term for preparing it for impending challenges.

If that includes sweeping changes of the sort Jonas recommends, Morgan Stanley’s “bull” case goes to $25 per share, more than double where the carmaker is at today.

Ford's new GT topped a successful period for the automaker.

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Ford’s new GT topped a successful period for the automaker.
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Ford

Tricky position

Ford is in a tricky position. On the one hand, it can ignore Wall Street and do nothing. The company is in no way in crisis, and even 2017 US sales now look as if they’ll come in higher than expected, perhaps nearly matching last year’s record of 17.55 million.

On the other hand, it can make narrative gestures in the direction that Wall Street seems to want, adjusting strategy to compete with money-losing Tesla (higher market cap than Ford, $3.5 billion is cash), as well as Uber and its alleged disruption of a personal-vehicle-ownership model that, as current sales would indicate, shows no sign of disappearing anytime soon.

Jonas thinks Ford has a limited time to do the latter. And he’s right because the US sales boom has to fade at some point, and then the story will return to fundamentals, eliminating all the futuristic speculation in favor of a simple question: “Is Ford making money?”