Tag Archives: rich

Globalization took hits in 2016; Will 2017 lead to more?

Globalization, the path that the world economy has largely followed for decades, took some hefty blows in 2016.

The election of Donald Trump as U.S. president and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union have raised questions over the future of tariff-free trade and companies’ freedom to move production to lower-cost countries.

Borders are back in vogue. Economic nationalism is paying political dividends.

“We want our country back” was the rallying cry of those backing Brexit, a sound bite that had echoes in Trump’s “Make America great again.”

The rise of Trump and the triumph of Brexit had their roots in the global financial crisis of 2008.

Eight years later, the world economy has still not yet fully gotten past that shock to its confidence — people are nervous, some are angry, and many are seeking novel solutions to their problems. Next year, there’s scope for more uncertainty with elections in France and Germany.

Here’s a look at the year’s top business stories for 2016:

BREXIT SHOCK

In what was a sign of things to come, Britain voted to leave the EU in a referendum in June. The decision came as a surprise — certainly to bookmakers and many pollsters who had consistently given the “remain” side the edge — and means Britain has to redefine itself after 43 years of EU membership. David Cameron resigned as prime minister after the vote and the new Conservative government led by Theresa May is planning to trigger the formal process by which Britain exits the EU early next year. There are many shades of potential Brexit, from an outright divorce that could put up tariffs on goods and services, to a more amicable parting that sees many of the current trading arrangements kept in place. The pound’s fall to a 31-year low below $1.20 at one point is testament to that uncertainty.

 

TRUMP CARD

Pollsters and bookmakers got it wrong again a few months later when Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential election. Whether he translates his “America First” platform into action following his inauguration in January will help shape the global economy for the next four years at least. Trump has railed against long-standing trading agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, and vowed to punish China for the way it devalues its currency against the dollar and to tax U.S. firms that move jobs overseas. He has also laid out plans to bring America’s creaking infrastructure up to 21st-century standards, a new spending pitch that has the potential to boost jobs — but which could also lay the seeds of higher inflation.

MARKETS MARCH ON

Trump’s victory did not cause the bottom to fall out of the stock market rally that’s been largely in place since 2009, when the world economy started to first claw out of its deepest recession since World War II.

In fact, both the Dow and the S&P 500 rallied to hit a series of record highs. Stocks have also benefited from a raft of big corporate deals this year — executives are seeing takeovers as a fast way to generate growth in what is otherwise a low-growth global economy disrupted by non-stop technological innovations.

Notable deals in 2016 included the announcement of an $85 billion merger of Time Warner and AT&T and the $57 billion takeover of Monsanto by Germany medicine and farm-chemical maker Bayer. The $100 billion takeover of SABMiller by Budweiser maker Anheuser-Busch InBev was also completed.

FED FINALLY DELIVERS

During his campaign, Trump criticized Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, saying she should be “ashamed” of the way she’s run policy since taking the helm in 2014. A year ago, the Fed appeared set to follow up its first interest rate hike in nearly a decade with three or four more in 2016. But there was no move until Dec. 14, when the U.S. central bank raised its main interest rate to a range between 0.5 percent and 0.75 percent. Many factors explained its hesitation to raise rates, including unease over the global impact of China’s economic slowdown and uncertainty surrounding the U.S. election. But with the U.S. economy continuing to do better than most developed countries — with unemployment below 5 percent and inflation on the way up — the Fed finally delivered another hike. The markets are predicting another three or four increases next year. Those expectations have helped the dollar rally, especially as other major central banks persevere with super-loose monetary policies to breathe life into their economies.

CHINA’S KEY ROLE

As the world’s second-largest economy, China is playing a bigger role in the functioning of the global economy. Nowhere was that more evident than in the early months of 2016, when jitters over the scale of the slowdown in China caused wild swings in financial markets. Stocks took a pounding while commodities tanked, with oil skidding to 13-year lows, as traders factored in lower demand from resource-hungry China. The slump in commodities weighed heavily on economies like Australia that are big exporters of raw materials. China’s economy is ending the year in relatively good health as authorities try to pivot the economy’s focus from manufacturing to more consumer spending. But Trump’s promises to take a tough stance in trade will be of concern to Beijing.

OPEC TAKES A STAND

For the first time since December 2008, at the height of the financial crisis, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries cut its production levels in 2016. November’s cut, soon followed by more cuts by non-OPEC countries like Russia, helped push oil prices sharply higher. At over $50 a barrel, benchmark New York crude is markedly higher than the near 13-year lows around $30 recorded at the start of 2016, when investors focused on high supply and concerns over an economic slowdown. The oil slump helped put several crude-producing countries into severe recessions, including Brazil and Venezuela, and even saw wealthy Saudi Arabia cut back on spending. The question for 2017 is whether OPEC — and non-OPEC — countries can deliver on their production promises. If they do and higher oil prices stick, that will push up inflation in the global economy.

IT JUST GRATES

One of the major reasons why popular sentiment has turned against governments has been a growing distrust of elites. Perhaps nothing illustrated the issue more than the “Panama Papers,” a leaked trove of data on thousands of offshore accounts that helped the wealthy, the powerful and celebrities shelter their cash from the taxman, often without breaking the law. Critics say these tax schemes are the core of a system that gives an unfair advantage to big corporations and the wealthy. Outrage grew in the U.S. when it was revealed that Wells Fargo employees opened up to 2 million bank and credit card accounts fraudulently to meet sales goals. Bank employees also allegedly moved money between those accounts and created fake email addresses to sign customers up for online banking.

It just grates.

Wisconsin communities vote to amend, overturn Citizens United

Wisconsin voters in 18 communities Nov. 8 voted for non-binding referenda to amend the U.S. Constitution to say that money is not the same thing as free speech and overturn Citizens United.

“People across the ideological spectrum get it: All of our voices are being drowned out by those with big money,” said Matt Rothschild, executive director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

The questions were approved with overwhelming majorities:

• Rock County (86 percent)

• Reedsburg (86 percent)

• Manitowoc (81 percent)

• Delafield (79 percent)

• Neshkoro (88 percent)

• New Glarus (88 percent)

• Spring Valley (91 percent)

• Osceola (86 percent)

• Mt. Horeb (84 percent)

• Monticello (86 percent)

• Clayton (86 percent)

• New Glarus (83 percent)

• Harris (65 percent)

• Springdale (86 percent)

• Decatur (89 percent)

• Mount Pleasant (84 percent)

• Cadiz (87 percent)

• Lake Tomahawk (91 percent)

A total of 96 Wisconsin communities — home to 2.8 million people — have called for an amendment.

Across the country, 18 state legislatures have voted for a constitutional amendment, as well as more than 700 towns, villages, cities and counties.

Jeanette Kelty, a leader of the amendment movement in Green County, said the morning after the election, “We are extremely pleased that these referenda passed by such high margins. This clearly demonstrates the will of the people. It is time for our state representatives to put this resolution to a statewide vote, and to move towards sending a resolution from Wisconsin to the U.S. Congress.”

Four in five Americans oppose the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, according to a Bloomberg poll. A New York Times/CBS poll.

“Big money has absolutely corrupted our system of government of, by, and for the people,” said Gerry Flakas of Delafield, another activist involved in the amendment push. “The only solution is to amend the Constitution to clarify that money is not speech and a corporation is not a person.”

On the Web

United To Amend is a non-partisan, grassroots movement. For more information visit wiuta.org.

AFT: Labor unions and shared prosperity

On the occasion of Labor Day, a message from American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten on the importance of the labor movement to American workers and communities:

Today is Labor Day—and there’s a good reason it’s a national holiday. By organizing together and fighting collectively, workers have been able to better their lives and the lives of their families. So rather than think about Labor Day as the last gasp of summer or bemoan the loss of union clout, let’s redouble our efforts to re-create an enduring middle class.

Income and wealth inequality rivals levels last seen in the Gilded Age. The American dream has slipped away from those who are working hard to make it. And rather than confronting these realities, many — particularly on the right — turned to union bashing and restricting labor rights that rendered people powerless to address inequities. The result: stagnating wages and stifled hopes for men and women who worked hard and played by the rules.

But we continue to fight — to fight for higher wages, fair contracts, professional development, safety measures, and resources for our members and their students, their patients and the others they serve.

America’s educators, healthcare professionals and public service workers know this firsthand. After the Great Recession, some on the right seized the political moment to vilify teachers and assault the labor movement that gives them a voice. In the aftermath, a study by a University of Utah economist showed that, in the four states that successfully weakened teachers’ right to bargain together, public school teachers’ wages fell by nearly one-tenth. That’s a statistic we as educators and public servants simply cannot afford.

Conversely, robust unions help everyone — not just the people who form them—and a growing body of research demonstrates that. There’s a multiplier effect. Through unions, we lift up our communities, strengthen the economy and deepen our democracy. If unions were as strong today as in 1979, according to a timely new study by the Economic Policy Institute, nonunion men with a high school diploma would earn an average of $3,016 more a year. And the Center for American Progress has found that kids who live in communities where unions are strong have a better chance to get ahead.

Workers in unions earn, on average, 27 percent more than their nonunion counterparts. The National Women’s Law Center has found that unions close the pay gap for women, and the Center for Economic and Policy Research has found that black workers see outsized gains from union representation. It’s a powerful reminder of the link between organized labor and economic success.

You see the union advantage in our advocacy as well. When the recession devastated the construction sector and put millions of Americans out of work, the American labor movement came together with the goal of raising $10 billion to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Five years later, our pension funds have reallocated $16 billion for infrastructure investments, including rehabilitating New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, turning it into a travel hub befitting a great modern city and creating good American jobs in the process.

In hospitals and patient care settings across the country, our members have been leading the fight against workplace violence.

And in the classroom, unions are critical partners in giving kids the chance to succeed. A 2016 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that where teachers unions are strong, districts have a better track record of building the quality of our teaching force — keeping stronger teachers and dismissing those who are not making the grade. Through unions, teachers fight for the tools, time and trust that educators need to tailor instruction to the needs of our children, to help them reach for and achieve their dreams.

Here at the AFT, we take that work seriously—for example, curating Share My Lesson, a free digital collection of lesson plans and resources for educators used by nearly a million people. In fact, Share My Lesson has more than 750 lessons about Labor Day!

Despite years of right-wing attacks on unions, a 2015 survey found that a majority of Americans would join a union if they had the choice. They know what a union offers: a voice in their workplace, the opportunity to negotiate wages and benefits and the ability to retire with dignity and security.

Indeed, despite all the attacks waged against us, the AFT—which celebrated our 100th anniversary at our national convention this summer—has grown over the past several years, with well over 1.6 million K-12 and higher education educators and staff, state and local employees, and nurses and other healthcare professionals as members. And now we are seeing more vulnerable workers — such as adjunct faculty and graduate students, teachers at charter schools and early childhood educators—seeking to join our ranks. In the private sector, tens of thousands of low-income workers have joined the Fight for 15 and the union movement because they know a union will help them get long-denied wage increases.

We have taken on the fight for adjuncts and early childhood educators from Pennsylvania to California — many of whom work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. These are the people who teach our youngest children, and they’re the ones who educate our college students; they deserve to live above the poverty line while doing this critical work.

Graduate students at Cornell University are celebrating the recent National Labor Relations Board decision that reinstates the right of graduate workers at private universities to organize. They are building momentum and talking to hundreds of fellow grad students about the power of collective bargaining, and are excited about the prospect of winning union recognition and joining more than 25,000 AFT graduate employees at public institutions who already enjoy the benefits of a contract.

The aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II led our country to understand we were all in it together. We established the GI Bill and other educational access and equity programs; management and labor respected each other, with unions being the voice of labor; and the middle class thrived.

Now, as income inequality is again at its height, let’s remember on this Labor Day what a strong labor movement has done—and can do again—to help workers, our communities, the economy and our democracy grow and thrive.

WHY IT MATTERS: Income inequality in America

Income inequality has surged near levels last seen before the Great Depression. The average income for the top 1 percent of households climbed 7.7 percent last year to $1.36 million, according to tax data tracked by Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley. That privileged sliver of the population saw pay climb at almost twice the rate of income growth for the other 99 percent, whose pay averaged a humble $48,768.

But why care how much the wealthy are making? What counts the most to any family is how much that family is bringing in. And that goes to the heart of the income-inequality debate: Most Americans still have yet to recover from the Great Recession, even though that downturn ended seven years ago. The average income for the 99 percent is still lower than it was back in 1998 after adjusting for inflation.

Meanwhile, incomes for the executives, bankers, hedge fund managers, entertainers and doctors who make up the top 1 percent have steadily improved. These one-percenters account for roughly 22 percent of all personal income, more than double the post-World War II era level of roughly 10 percent. One reason the income disparity is troubling for the nation is that it’s thinning out the ranks of the middle class.

 

WHERE THEY STAND

Hillary Clinton has highlighted inequality in multiple speeches, with her positions evolving somewhat over the past year. Bernie Sanders held her feet to the fire on that subject in the primaries. Clinton hopes to redirect more money to the middle class and impoverished. Clinton would raise taxes on the wealthy, increase the federal minimum wage, boost infrastructure spending, provide universal pre-K and offer the prospect of tuition-free college.

Donald Trump offers a blunter message about a hollowed-out middle class and a system “rigged” against average Americans. Still, he has yet to emphasize income inequality in the campaign. To bring back the factory jobs long associated with the rise of the middle class, Trump has promised new trade deals and infrastructure spending. But Trump has also proposed a tax plan that would allow the wealthiest Americans to keep more of their earnings.

 

WHY IT MATTERS

President Barack Obama has called rising inequality “the defining challenge of our time.” And experts warn that it may be slowing overall economic growth. Greater inequality has created a festering distrust of government and of corporate leaders whose promises of better times ahead never fully materialized.

The result has been a backlash against globalization that many Americans feel tilted the economy against them. For the top 1 percent, the ability to move money overseas and reach markets worldwide concentrated pay for “superstars,” according to economists. At the same time, factory workers now compete with 3 billion people in China, India, Eastern Europe and elsewhere who weren’t working for multinational corporations 20 years ago. Many now make products for Apple, Intel, General Motors and others at low wages. This has depressed middle-class pay. These trends have contributed to a “hollowed out” labor market in the United States, with more jobs at the higher and lower ends of the pay scale and fewer in the middle.

Social factors have amplified the trend as well. Single-parent families are more likely to be poor than other families and less likely to ascend the income ladder. Finally, men and women with college degrees and high pay are more likely to marry each other and amplify income gaps.

 

This story is part of AP’s “Why It Matters” series, which will examine three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. You can find them at: http://apnews.com/tag/WhyItMatters.

DIVIDED AMERICA: Rosy economic averages bypass many in US

Dozens of FedEx jets queue up for takeoff at the airport here in Memphis, Tennessee. Beale Street, the heart of the music district, hums with tourists. Yet the empty storefronts in Memphis’ moribund downtown and the cash-advance shops strewn near its highways tell another story.

It’s a tale of two cities, all in one place. And it’s a tale of two Americas: the one that national averages indicate has all but recovered from the Great Recession and the one lost in the statistics.

The pattern is evident in cities and towns across America, from Memphis to Colorado Springs, Colorado, from Wichita to Jacksonville: The national numbers aren’t capturing the experience of many typical people in typical communities.

         This story is part of Divided America, AP’s ongoing exploration of the economic, social and political divisions in American society.

A key reason is that pay and wealth are flowing disproportionately to the rich, skewing the data used to measure economic health — and producing an economy on paper that most Americans don’t recognize in their own lives. That disconnect has fueled much of the frustration and anxiety that have propelled the insurgent presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Again and again, primary voters who were most worried about the economy told pollsters that they had cast their ballots for Trump or Sanders, according to Edison Research, which conducted the surveys on behalf of The Associated Press and television networks.

Trump’s candidacy, in particular, has been driven by support in some of the most economically distressed regions in the country, where jobs have been automated, eliminated, or moved to other states and countries. It’s in these places that the outsider message of an unconventional candidate promising a return to the way things used to be resonates most.

Mike Williams earns $22 an hour as a maintenance worker at an Owens-Corning factory, along with health care and retirement benefits. But after a recent raise, his hourly pay has only recently returned to where it was a decade ago, when he worked as a welder.

“I feel like I’m going backward rather than forward,” Williams, 51, said on a recent afternoon after finishing his shift.

In March, Williams voted for Trump in the state’s primary, which the real estate billionaire won easily. One reason he backed Trump, he said, is he feels less secure than in the past, when more manufacturing work was available.

“I remember when you could quit a job today and go to work somewhere else tomorrow,” Williams said.

After seven years of national economic expansion _ to the point where the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates again _ the depth of such insecurity across America has caught many observers off guard.

Said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust and former economist at the Federal Reserve: “The averages certainly don’t tell the whole story.”

Consider incomes for the average U.S. household. They ticked up 0.7 percent from 2008 to 2014, after taking inflation into account. But even that scant increase reflected mainly the rise in income for the richest tenth of households, which pulled up the average. For most others, incomes actually decreased _ as much as 6 percent for the bottom 20 percent, at a time when the economy was mostly recovering.

In Memphis, hiring resumed after the recession and the unemployment rate has declined to match the national figure of 5 percent. Yet those figures, too, obscure as much as they reveal: Many of the new jobs, in Memphis and elsewhere, are in lower-paying industries and are more likely to be part time or temporary.

In Millington, a Memphis suburb where Trump held a rally in February at a military airfield, residents complain that most of the available jobs are in the fast-food chains that dot Highway 51, the main thoroughfare.

The U.S. economy has added a healthy average of roughly 200,000 jobs a month since 2011. Yet most have been either high-paying or low-paying positions. By the end of 2015, the nation still had fewer middle-income jobs than it did before the recession, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

That reflects what economists call the “hollowing out” of the workforce, as traditional mid-level positions such as office administrators, bookkeepers, and factory assembly-line workers are cut in recessions and never fully recover their previous levels of employment.

In Memphis, jobs in the one-third lowest-paying industries, such as retail, restaurants and hotels, are the only category to have fully recovered from the recession, according to Moody’s Analytics. Higher- and middle-paying jobs still trail their pre-recession levels.

In the first half of the recovery, jobs grew 5.6 percent nationwide. Yet in the wealthiest one-fifth of zip codes, hiring jumped 11.2 percent, according to the Economic Innovation Group think tank. For the rest of the country, total jobs increased just 3.3 percent.

“It’s hard to find an average city,” Tannenbaum says.

The same is true for households. These data suggest that the post-World War II trend of a steadily growing middle class, lifted by broader national prosperity, is reversing.

Slightly fewer than half of adults now fall in the middle-class camp, according to the Pew Research Center, a shift that followed four decades of decline. In 1971, 61 percent of households were middle class, according to Pew, which defines middle class as income between two-thirds and double the median household income.

Chris Rice, 29, has worked steadily in the Memphis region for the past 10 years, all at temporary jobs. Rice most recently worked as a forklift driver for Electrolux and for CEVA Logistics, a warehouse firm. The CEVA job ended after the company lost a contract to distribute Microsoft’s X-Box.

Rice said he was hopeful of getting a new temp job at a plant owned by printer manufacturer Brother International.

Still, “I’d love to have a permanent job,” he said. “I’m tired of going from temp agency to temp agency when there’s no work.”

Offshore accounts hide wealth, avoid taxes

Privacy has a price. For the super-wealthy, it can also have a big payoff. The use of offshore accounts and favorable laws in certain countries can allow rich individuals and families to keep their money hidden from the eyes of tax authorities, regulators and others in their home country.

Here’s a look at how offshore accounts are used, both legally and illegally, in the wake of an investigation by an international coalition of media outlets that shows how the rich and powerful use banks, law firms, trusts and offshore shell companies to hide their assets.

WHAT ARE THESE ACCOUNTS?

They are bank accounts or trusts established in a foreign country that take advantage of local banking and corporate laws to help hide the true identity of the owner of the money or other assets in the accounts.

Often, the person establishes a so-called shell company, which lacks any real operations and exists mainly on paper. In many jurisdictions and some U.S. states, companies can be created without identifying an owner.

The company – with no person linked to it – is listed as the official owner of the trust or account. That allows the wealthy person to control the account indirectly, through the company, and makes it harder for authorities to link the money to the individual.

While shell companies and offshore accounts aren’t illegal by themselves, they can be used to help avoid taxes, facilitate money laundering and conceal corruption.

WHERE ARE OFFSHORE ACCOUNTS HELD?

Those looking to hide assets establish accounts in countries like Panama, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, where the banking laws are designed to vigorously protect account owners’ identities.

In recent years, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service have found millions of dollars in taxable income hidden in secret accounts in the Caribbean.

There also are havens like the Isle of Man off Britain, Macau off China and the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. Some European countries like Switzerland, Luxembourg and Monaco have also served as havens for those trying to avoid taxes, though many nations have tightened banking laws to combat tax cheating.

ARE THERE LEGITIMATE REASONS FOR THESE ARRANGEMENTS?

It’s possible, but don’t bank on it, says Jimmy Gurule, a former assistant U.S. attorney general and undersecretary for enforcement at the Treasury Department. The likelihood is strong that the entity has “no commercial or legitimate purpose,” said Gurule, who teaches law at Notre Dame. The Caymans, for example, “has a well-deserved reputation for being a money-laundering and tax-evasion haven.”

The country’s banking laws made it more difficult for him and his colleagues in U.S. law enforcement to investigate and prosecute cases, Gurule said.

Still, wealthy people who live in countries with unstable political situations, high levels of corruption, or high levels of criminal activity such as kidnapping or extortion could use offshore accounts and the secrecy they provide for protection, and not necessarily to avoid taxes.

ILLICIT USES OF OFFSHORE ACCOUNTS

The anonymity afforded by shell companies and offshore accounts allows them to be used by terrorists and other international criminals to hide and move money.

They’re an ideal vehicle for people “who want to keep their transactions secret to escape law enforcement or civil liability,” said Jack Blum, a Washington attorney who’s an expert on financial crime and international tax evasion.

Terrorist groups’ use of shadowy financial networks has been scrutinized by law enforcement agencies, and the U.S. government has applied sanctions to a number of groups hoping to cut off their access to the U.S. financial system. Lawmakers say they’ve been hindered, though, by a lack of consistency in policies among the various national and international agencies involved in fighting terrorist financing.

EFFORTS TO CRACK DOWN

Congress passed a law in 2010 called the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act to target U.S. taxpayers who may be hiding money in foreign accounts. The leaders of the Group of 20 – representing 80 percent of the global economy – have recently worked to get its members to adopt stricter reporting requirements to prevent secret dealings. Anti-corruption advocates say legal standards have improved, but are not tough enough.

On Monday Angel Gurria, the secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is working with the G-20 to restrict the use of shell companies, called on Panama to “put its house in order” and implement transparency standards. It was a leak of 11.5 million documents from a Panamanian law firm that specializes in creating shell companies that led to revelations of widespread use of these companies and accounts to avoid taxes.

U.S. hunters annually import 126,000 ‘wildlife trophies’

U.S. hunters import about 126,000 “wildlife trophies” annually and killed about 1.26 million animals between 2005 and 2014.

Humane Society International and The Human Society of the United States released earlier in February “Trophy Hunting by the Numbers: the United States’ Role in Global Trophy Hunting.”

Trophy hunting is the killing of animals for body parts, such as the head and hide, for display and not primarily for food and sustenance. A recent study examining the motivation for these hunts found that U.S. hunters glamorize the killing of an animal to demonstrate virility, prowess and dominance.

The report uses analysis of hunting trophy import data obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and contains these findings:

• Trophies are primarily imported from Canada and South Africa. They are followed by Namibia, Mexico, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Tanzania, Argentina, Zambia and Botswana.

• The species most favored by trophy hunters include American black bears, impalas, common wildebeests, greater kudus, gemsboks, springboks and bonteboks.

• Trophy hunters highly covet the African big five. The import numbers for 2005-14 are 5,600 African lions, 4,600 African elephants, 4,500 African leopards, 330 southern white rhinos and 17,200 African buffalo.

All of these species, except the African buffalo, are near threatened or vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

• The U.S. ports of entry importing the most wildlife trophies during the decade were New York, New York; Pembina, North Dakota; Chicago, Illinois; Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas; and Portal, North Dakota.

“This report clearly shows the dire impact American trophy hunters are having on wildlife in other countries,” said Teresa M. Telecky, director of the wildlife department at HIS.

She continued, “It’s outrageous that every year hunters take the lives of thousands of animals, many threatened with extinction, just to win a prize and show off. These animals need protection, not to be mounted on a wall. The fact that rare, majestic species are entering the U.S. in large and small ports of entry should alarm lawmakers and the public concerned about trophy hunting.”

Hunting groups promote the hunts, offering accolades and awards to club members. The largest of these groups, Safari Club International, recently concluded its convention in Las Vegas, where more than 300 mammal hunts for more than 600 animals were auctioned off and other hunts arranged privately on the exhibit floor. An African lion trophy hunt can cost $13,500-$49,000. An African elephant hunt can cost $11,000-$70,000.

SCI often uses the revenue from hunt sales to lobby against wildlife protection measures.

For certain species, including lions, elephants, leopards and rhinos, the United States is the largest trophy importing country.

HSI and The HSUS, in a statement on the report, pledged to continue to seek new protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act for species that meet the criteria for listing.

The African lion is the latest species to receive ESA protection after a multi-year effort by animal protection organizations, including HSI and The HSUS.

The groups also are seeking increased ESA protections for species currently listed in a lower category of protection, as was recently done for the African elephant. HSI and The HSUS are also urging corporations — such as Swarovski Optik  — to end sponsorship of trophy hunting advocacy organizations, as well as reaching out to more airlines and other transport companies to ban the transport of trophies.

Lead pipes lurk in neighborhoods across the nation

Lead pipes like the ones that led to contamination of the tap water in Flint, Michigan, carry water into millions of older homes across the United States every day, a legacy of an era before scientists realized the severe long-term health consequences of exposure to the heavy metal.

Replacing these buried pipes would be costly in many cases, so chemicals often are added to prevent the plumbing from corroding and leaching lead and other dangerous metals into the drinking water. That’s a step authorities in Flint failed to take, for reasons that are being investigated.

Some researchers question whether chemical treatment and routine testing for lead in the water are enough, arguing that the only way to remove the threat is to replace the pipes.

Utility operators say what happened in Flint – a largely poor and predominantly black city of about 100,000 people that was once an automobile manufacturing powerhouse – is unlikely to be repeated, pointing to a series of mistakes at every level of government.

The city began drawing drinking water from the Flint River, and state environmental regulators failed to make sure the corrosive water was treated to prevent leaching from old pipes. The result: Flint children have been found with high blood levels of lead that could cause lifelong health problems, and parents and others are furious at public officials.

Lead pipes are predominantly found in older neighborhoods, especially in the East and Midwest, because most cities stopped installing them in the 1930s. The pipes carry water from main lines under the streets and into homes.

Estimates vary on how many of these pipes are still in use. A survey just completed by the American Water Works Association puts the number at 6.5 million. Inside homes, lead can also be found in faucets and in the solder that is used to join water pipes, but that is considered a less serious concern.

To stop lead from seeping into tap water, chemicals to protect the pipes are commonly added to the water during the treatment process. Some utilities also adjust the composition of their water to limit its corrosiveness.

In Toledo, which like Flint is an older, Rust Belt city, officials have long treated the water with phosphates to prevent leaching. Phosphates are generally considered safe for humans but can lead to runaway algae growth when the water works its way back into lakes and rivers.

Trouble can start when a utility makes a change in its treatment process or taps into a new water source without accounting for how that will affect its lead pipes, said Daniel Giammar, a lead and water researcher at Washington University in St. Louis.

“In general, as long as the water chemistry isn’t changing, you won’t have a problem,” he said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires all drinking water utilities to test for lead. The frequency of the testing can range from six months to every three years, depending on past lead levels.

The reliability of such testing is a matter of debate. Often, a small number of homeowners are given instructions and asked to provide samples of their water, which is then analyzed by regulators. That, of course, does not guarantee all homes are lead-free.

“Each individual really is given a large responsibility, and I think most people would be surprised to learn that they can’t trust what’s flowing from their tap in many cities,” said Marc Edwards, an environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech University who investigated high lead levels in Flint.

Determining the scope of the problem is complicated by the lack of accurate records on which homes have lead pipes, Edwards said.

The EPA says cities need to take steps to reduce lead levels if they exceed 15 parts per billion. But many health experts say no amount is safe. They say that is especially true for children, who are susceptible to learning disabilities and behavior problems from exposure to lead.

David Cornwell, who is president of an environmental engineering company and has written some of the corrosion control methods used in the industry, said there is only one way to make certain that tap water is lead-free: “Ultimately, we have to get rid of those lead lines. No question about it.”

Similarly, an EPA advisory committee of water plant managers, water quality experts and health professionals recommended to the agency in December that such pipes be replaced.

Only a few cities have attempted such an undertaking.

Utility operators in Washington started a $400 million pipe replacement program after lead levels spiked above federal standards. But they halted the work in 2008, saying other measures had brought lead down to acceptable levels.

In Michigan, Lansing has eliminated about 13,500 lead lines and hopes to have all of them replaced within the next two years. The city is spending about $42 million over 10 years to do the work.

One big obstacle is that the lead pipes under the streets are owned by the utilities, while the sections leading into houses are usually the responsibility of the homeowners.

Also, researchers have found that removing just part of the lines isn’t enough to solve the problem and can actually make it worse by loosening lead particles in the plumbing that remains.

That’s why the water utility in Madison, Wisconsin, decided to replace its lead pipes and cover half the cost for homeowners.

City water quality manager Joe Grande said only a few lead pipes remain since the completion of the $15 million project three years ago.

“We look back and know we made the right decision,” he said. “We’re not in a situation like Flint today because we made those decisions years ago.”

Cash for Cruz: Billionaires helped Cruz rise in GOP presidential bid

Four of America’s wealthiest businessmen laid the foundation for Ted Cruz’s now-surging Republican presidential campaign and have redefined the role of political donors.

With just over a week until voters get their first say, the 45-year-old Texas senator known as a conservative warrior has been ascendant. The $36 million committed last year by these donor families is now going toward broadcast and online advertisements, direct mailings and get-out-the-vote efforts in early primary states.

The donors’ super political action committees sponsored weekend rallies in Iowa featuring Cruz and conservative personality Glenn Beck. The state holds the leadoff caucuses on Feb. 1.

The long-believing benefactors are New York hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, Texas natural gas billionaires Farris and Dan Wilks, and private-equity partner Toby Neugebauer. They honed their plan to help Cruz before he began his steady rise in polls — before he even announced his presidential bid in March.

“No one wants to lose,” Neugebauer told The Associated Press when asked why he and others bet big on Cruz. “We didn’t miss that an outsider would win. I think we’ve nailed it.”

The groundwork laid by Neugebauer and other major donors began roughly two years ago, first in a casual conversation with Cruz at a donor’s home in Palm Beach, Florida, then in a more formal way over the 2014 Labor Day weekend at Neugebauer’s ranch in East Texas.

That October, big-data firm Cambridge Analytica — in which Mercer is an investor — began working to identify potential Cruz voters and develop messages that would motivate them. Alexander Nix, the company’s chief executive officer, said the importance of this early work cannot be overstated. He credits Cruz for understanding this.

“Money never buys you time,” Nix said, drawing from his experiences with campaigns worldwide. “Too often clients will come to you just before an election and expect you to work miracles. But you cannot roll back the clock.”

Key donors soon came up with a novel arrangement: Each family would control its own super PAC, but the groups would work together as a single entity called Keep the Promise. They keep in touch through weekly strategy phone calls.

That’s not how super PACs usually work. More typically, multiple donors turn over their money and leave the political decisions to professional strategists. For example, Jeb Bush’s super PAC counts more than two dozen million-dollar donors.

For Cruz, the pool of really big donors is far more concentrated: Mercer gave $11 million, Neugebauer gave $10 million, and the Wilks brothers and their wives together gave $15 million.

That level of support has opened Cruz to criticism that donors are influencing his policies, whether on abortion, energy or the gold standard.

Ethanol advocates point to his oil and gas donors as the reason he wants to discontinue that government subsidy for the corn-based fuel. Cruz and the donors have dismissed that as nonsense. His campaign cites as evidence Cruz’s desire to end handouts to all parts of the energy industry.

Neugebauer, whose private equity investment firm has investments in shale, moved to Puerto Rico in 2014. He said he relocated for his children’s education, but there are tax breaks as well.

Mercer is a former computer programmer and co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, one of the country’s largest hedge funds. The Wilks brothers are relative newcomers to the world of political donations, having made billions in 2011 by selling their company, which manufactures equipment for the hydraulic fracturing of natural gas.

Although these donors set aside their millions for Cruz 10 months ago, it’s only now that the money is making its way to the 2016 race in a major way.

Since mid-December, the Keep the Promise super PACs have documented about $4 million in independent expenditures to help Cruz or attack other candidates — most often Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, federal election records show.

The super PACs have been identifying and connecting with Cruz voters through digital ads and door-knocking, and recently began a multimillion-dollar TV ad campaign. A Keep the Promise van tailed the Cruz campaign bus as it made its way through Iowa last week. Super PAC workers handed out thousands of “Choose Cruz” yard signs.

For the biggest donors, it’s no surprise that Cruz seems to be well-positioned heading into the primaries. In mid-July, Keep the Promise posted on its website a slide-show presentation called “Can He Win?” The document predicted it would be “very difficult for Establishment to destroy the conservative challenger.” 

Sanders, Clinton cool to Michael Bloomberg’s potential presidential run

Democratic presidential candidates gave a cool reception on Jan. 24 to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s potential independent White House run, with Bernie Sanders saying it would add another billionaire like Republican Donald Trump to the race.

With eight days to go until Iowa holds the first nominating contest on the road to the Nov. 8 presidential election, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio basked in the glow of an endorsement from the Des Moines Register, the state’s biggest newspaper.

The weekend disclosure from a source close to the situation that Bloomberg is laying the groundwork for a run that he could launch should Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton falter, sent shock waves rippling through the entire presidential field.

Sanders, a democratic socialist and Vermont senator who is threatening Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire, told ABC’s “This Week” program that Bloomberg’s entry would add a second billionaire to the field. Trump, a real estate mogul, is leading the crowded Republican field.

Sanders has railed against “millionaires and billionaires” and the political power they wield throughout his insurgent campaign for the Democratic nomination.

“That is not what, to my view, American democracy is supposed to be about, a contest between billionaires. If that takes place, I am confident that we will win it,” Sanders said.

Many analysts believe a Bloomberg entry into the race could siphon Democratic votes and be another blow to Clinton, a former secretary of state and the wife of former President Bill Clinton.

An independent bid would be a heavy lift for Bloomberg. The last major third-party candidate, Ross Perot, won 18.9 percent of the vote in 1992, which some observers believe enabled Bill Clinton to defeat President George H.W. Bush.

Hillary Clinton, who won the Register’s endorsement on the Democratic side, said she expected to negate Bloomberg’s rationale for running.

“He’s a good friend of mine and I am going to do the best I can that I get the nomination and we’ll go from there,” she told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“The way I read what he said is that if I didn’t get the nomination, he would do it. … I will relieve him of that,” she said.

Bloomberg, 73, a media magnate who has long privately flirted with the idea of a presidential run, served as mayor of New York from 2002 to 2013. He switched his party affiliation from Republican to independent in 2007 and has spent millions in recent years on national campaigns to tighten U.S. gun laws and reform immigration.

TRUMP ‘WOULD LOVE’ BLOOMBERG IN RACE

Trump noted that he and Bloomberg had differences on the issues of gun control and abortion and that he would love to run against him. Bloomberg favors reproductive choice.

“I know Michael very well and would love to compete with him. He is very opposite from me on guns and pro-life. … I would love to have Michael get in the race,” Trump told CNN.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told the ABC program that Bloomberg had been a “great mayor,” who was unlikely to get into the race unless Trump and Sanders were the parties’ nominees.

“But that’s way off into the future,” Bush said.

Rubio, at a town hall meeting in Marion, Iowa, brought up Bloomberg’s attempts for more gun control. He said he had been asked in a television interview to comment on Bloomberg’s potential candidacy.

“I said he’s not a candidate. If he gets in, we’ll talk about his record and his hatred for the Second Amendment,” Rubio said, referring to the constitutional amendment granting Americans the right to bear arms.

Bloomberg’s news service competes with Reuters.