Beyond the county: Goldman Sachs takes a hit, Putin’s exit strategy in Syria |

Beyond the county: Goldman Sachs takes a hit, Putin’s exit strategy in Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a teleconference watching the start of the construction of a Gas Processing plant after visiting the Vostochny Cosmodrome near Uglegorsk, the city in eastern Siberia in the Amur region, Russia, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. Putin has chided officials for a four-month delay in building a sprawling space center in the Far East. (Alexei Nikolsky, RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Syria air campaign on, Putin may already seek exit strategy

MOSCOW — With Russia’s air campaign in Syria now in its third week, Vladimir Putin has raised his nation’s global profile and proven its capability to project military power far from its borders. Now the Russian president could already be on the lookout for an exit strategy to prevent his gains from turning into a liability.

Putin certainly realizes that some 30 Russian combat jets won’t be able to change the course of the war, and allow Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces to win. His apparent goals are more modest: to show all players that they will not be able to unseat Assad by force; to help cement the Syrian government’s grip on the territory it controls; and to foster political talks that could allow Moscow to protect its interests in the region.

Another key task for Putin is bring Moscow and Washington together in a security dialogue, which he hopes would make Russia appear as an equal and eventually lead to improved ties with the West that were wrecked by the Ukraine crisis.

Even though the air campaign in Syria, the first Russian military operation outside the former Soviet Union since the Cold War, hasn’t yet put any significant additional burden on Russia’s crisis-stricken economy, there are strong reasons for the Kremlin to avoid long-term involvement in the conflict.

Putin has said that Russia’s military action, which began on Sept. 30, will last as long as it’s necessary to support the Syrian army’s operations. While Assad’s troops have launched a new offensive in central and northwestern Syria under Russian air cover, their effort is unlikely to significantly change the situation on the ground.

Protracted Russian military action without any visible gains by the Syrian army would quickly erode the propaganda effect Putin has achieved with his bombing blitz. On the other hand, broader military involvement — let alone ground action — would strain Russia’s financial and logistical resources to the limit and could quickly sap domestic support for the Syrian campaign.

And while the air raids have shown Russia’s military muscle, they also have stirred up a hornet’s nest of powerful interests, angering key regional players. The Kremlin may feel strong pressure to map an exit strategy to avoid further straining ties with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and others who have made unseating Assad their top priority.

The main challenge for Moscow is a peg to claim victory and get out. A notable Syrian army battle victory or at least a modest sign of progress in negotiations on settling the conflict could provide a good excuse.

Since June, Russia has played with the idea of a political transition that would envisage setting up some sort of interim government, talking to the U.S., Saudi Arabia, the Syrian opposition and others. Moscow’s diplomatic efforts have brought no visible results so far, but Putin has insisted that a political solution for Syria remains his top goal despite the military action.

On Sunday, Putin discussed the situation in Syria with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman. The unexpected encounter was their second meeting since June, signaling shared interest in a compromise.

Putin used the talks to assuage Saudi fears about Moscow teaming up with Tehran. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said after the meeting that Russia assured Saudi Arabia that its action in Syria doesn’t mean an alliance with Iran, the Saudis’ arch-enemy in the region.

If the Kremlin can reach agreement with Saudi Arabia, which has pushed strongly for Assad’s ouster since the start of the Syrian conflict in March 2011 — and has been the principal supporter of various opposition groups — it could help jumpstart the stalled peace talks.

Parallel to that, Moscow also has sought to alleviate the concerns of Turkey, a major economic partner and the second-biggest importer of Russian natural gas after Germany. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sharply criticized Russia for targeting moderate rebels and warned Moscow that Ankara could turn to other gas suppliers if it doesn’t revise its policy in Syria.

On a conciliatory note, Putin said this week that the Kremlin understands Turkish concerns about the Kurds and vowed to take them into account. Syrian Kurdish forces are fighting the Islamic State group, while Turkey’s Kurdish rebels have battled the nation’s security forces.

Russia also responded quickly to Turkish protests against violation of its airspace by Syria-based Russian jets, setting up a military coordination panel to avoid such incidents in the future.

Prior to launching his air campaign, Putin agreed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to establish a similar coordination mechanism between the nations’ militaries.

While working to soothe the worries of regional powers, Moscow has energetically pursued its efforts to engage the U.S. in a dialogue on Syria.

By launching air strikes, Putin effectively forced the U.S. to start military-to-military talks on avoiding clashes between the two nations’ combat planes over Syria. The Pentagon and the Russian military have had several rounds of discussions on a set of rules to prevent any such incidents.

But Putin also kept pushing for broader political and military talks. At last month’s meeting with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, he proposed sending a delegation led by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to the U.S. for broader discussions on Syria.

When the U.S. refused, Russia quickly made it public and Putin slammed the U.S. for lacking an agenda in Syria.

The Russian president also sought to fend off U.S. criticism of Russia for targeting moderate opposition groups instead of IS — its declared primary target — saying that Washington has refused to share information on IS targets in Syria.

Putin said the U.S. refused a Russian request to name targets it considers legitimate, and when Moscow asked what targets it shouldn’t strike, Washington also refused.

That prompted a mocking response from Putin: “It seems to me that some of our partners have mush for brains and lack a clear understanding of what’s really going on there, and what goals they want to achieve.”

— Associated Press

South Tahoe police seek drive-by shooting suspect

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — South Lake Tahoe Police found an abandoned vehicle but are still searching for a suspect in an apparent drive-by shooting.

Police Lt. David Stevenson says a 19-year-old South Lake Tahoe man was shot in the leg just after midnight Thursday near the intersection of U.S. Highway 50 and Ski Run Boulevard.

The suspected vehicle was located in a parking lot a few miles away at Highways 50 and 89.

There’s no immediate word on the condition of the shooting victim.

An investigation is continuing.

Clinton says she won’t ‘be silenced’ on gun violence

SAN ANTONIO — Hillary Rodham Clinton says she will “not be silenced” when it comes to talking about gun violence, renewing her debate-night tangle with rival Bernie Sanders.

The Democratic presidential candidate says at a rally in San Antonio that she’s “been told by some to quit talking about this.” She says she’ll continue to challenge the National Rifle Association.

Clinton did not mention Sanders by name. But during Tuesday’s debate, Sanders said “all the shouting in the world” won’t keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

The Vermont senator voted for a 2005 measure to give gun manufacturers immunity from lawsuits. Clinton opposed that bill in the Senate.

Guns have emerged as a dividing line between the two leading Democratic presidential candidates.

— Associated Press

California man exonerated after 15 years in prison

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A California man has been released from prison after being exonerated from a conviction of child molestation.

Larry Pohlschneider, 48, walked free last week after serving nearly 15 years of a 24-year sentence at Corcoran state prison, reported The Sacramento Bee reports ( ).

After noticing a flier in the prison’s library, Pohlschneider contacted the Santa Clara University School of Law’s Northern California Innocence Project. With their help, his 2000 conviction should be vacated and charges dismissed for ineffective assistance from his trial attorney.

If he is found “factually innocent” in a hearing next month, Pohlschneider will be compensated about $766,500 for the time he spent prison.

“I still find it hard to believe that someone could be convicted of a crime that never happened,” Pohlschneider said by telephone Wednesday. He told the Sacramento Bee that he feels “just kind of numb and a little relieved.”

His ex-wife’s second husband, Albert Earl Harris, pleaded guilty to molesting three of the family’s young children. But when a physician assistant examined the kids said they had been molested by a second person, investigators focused on Pohlschneider.

One of the children involved is Pohlschneider’s daughter, while the other two are Harris’ son and daughter. But Pohlschneider said he considers all three of them his children.

The children implicated Pohlschneider during intense questioning but retracted the statements soon after, according to Maitreya Badami, the Innocence Project attorney who represented Pohlschneider.

The project shared the medical evidence with a nationally recognized expert on child abuse and neglect, the University of California, San Francisco’s Dr. James Crawford, who said it was not credible.

“He examined the evidence and was appalled,” said Badami. “He called the conclusion of the physician assistant ‘complete nonsense.’”

But Badami says Pohlschneider’s lawyer at the time, Thomas Hilligan, didn’t challenge the evidence.

Hilligan, 79, didn’t return a message seeking comment. State Bar records show he resigned his license to practice law while facing processional misconduct charges in 2008.

In his first hours as a free man, Pohlschneider stopped at a Denny’s restaurant, got a haircut and ate cheesecake.

“My first concern is my kids,” he said. His three children, now adults, were prohibited from visiting him in prison by court order, but he says they sent loving letters.

“They were not just abused by Harris, but also by the system. They have been living with this guilt forever, and it doesn’t seem to matter how much I tell them it wasn’t their fault.”

— Associated Press

Goldman Sachs earnings fall 38 percent, missing forecasts

NEW YORK — Goldman Sachs posted as a 38 percent drop in earnings in the third quarter on Thursday, missing analysts estimates, as the Wall Street bank was hurt by recent market turbulence and lower commodity prices.

Goldman said it had net income of $1.33 billion after payments to preferred shareholders, or $2.90 a share, down from $2.14 billion, or $4.57 a share, in the same period a year ago.

Net revenue at the investment bank dropped by 18 percent to $6.86 billion from $8.39 billion a year earlier.

“We experienced lower levels of activity and declining asset prices during the quarter, reflecting renewed concerns about global economic growth,” CEO Lloyd Blankfein said in a prepared statement.

It was widely expected that Goldman would report a drop in profit for the third quarter given the recent market turbulence and sell-off in commodity prices. Goldman does not have a consumer banking business, and makes its money providing financial advice to companies and high net worth individuals, as well as a significant stock, bonds, and commodities trading operation.

Net revenue in Goldman’s fixed income, currency and commodities business was $1.46 billion this quarter, down a third from a year earlier.

Goldman’s lending and investing business, the firm’s own investments, also took a hit this quarter, posting revenue of $670 million, down 60 percent from a year ago. The firm said its investments “were negatively impacted by a significant decrease in global equity prices.”

One positive note in Goldman’s results was its investment banking division, which saw a 6 percent increase in net revenue from a year ago. The amount of money Goldman made in advising companies through mergers and acquisitions, one of the firm’s highest profile businesses, was $809 million in the quarter, up 36 percent.

Not surprisingly, the firm’s employee compensation levels shrank, a reflection that Goldman employees are largely paid in bonuses and for performance. The amount of money Goldman set aside for compensation was $2.35 billion in the quarter, down 16 percent from a year ago.

The results did not meet Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of eight analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of $2.94 per share. Revenue also did not meet analysts’ expectations of $7.29 billion.

Goldman’s stock rose $2.14, or 1 percent, to $181.65 in mid-morning trading.

— Associated Press

US spec ops knew Afghan site was hospital

WASHINGTON — The Associated Press has learned that American special operations analysts knew the Doctors without Borders facility in Kunduz was a hospital, but were gathering intelligence on it because they suspected it was being used by a Pakistani operative to coordinate Taliban activity.

It’s unclear whether commanders who unleashed an AC-130 gunship on the hospital on Oct. 3 — killing at least 22 patients and hospital staff — were aware that the site was a hospital or knew about the allegations of possible enemy activity. The Pentagon initially said the attack was to protect U.S. troops engaged in a firefight and has since said it was a mistake.

Doctors without Borders disputes that the hospital was being used by the Taliban for military purposes.

— Associated Press

Medicaid Spending Soars – Mostly In Expansion States

Medicaid spending soared nearly 14 percent last year-its biggest annual increase in at least two decades-as a result of millions of newly eligible low-income enrollees signing up under the Affordable Care Act, according to a report released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Total spending was highest in the 29 states that expanded Medicaid, the government insurance program for low-income and disabled people, under the health law. In those states, total Medicaid spending jumped nearly 18 percent in the fiscal year that for most states ended June 30, the Kaiser researchers found. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation).

In the other states that did not expand, Medicaid spending rose about 6 percent, the report found.

The health law gave states the option to extend Medicaid coverage to everyone with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $16,242 for an individual. In most Republican-controlled states lawmakers refused to expand, citing fears that the cost to their states would ultimately be too high. Some also said they were philosophically against offering coverage to “able-bodied” adults.

Nonetheless some Republican-led states are moving forward with expansion. Montana plans to expand Medicaid next year-becoming the 30th state. Its plan is pending federal approval.

Medicaid is financed by states and the federal government. The federal share ranges from 50 percent to 74 percent, depending on a state’s per capita income. Under the health law, the federal government pays the full cost of those newly eligible enrollees through 2016, then states gradually have to pick up some of the cost but no more than 10 percent.

Most of the growth in Medicaid enrollment has been from people who became eligible under the health law and therefore totally paid for by the federal government. States that expanded the program saw their share of costs increase by 3.4 percent compared to nearly 7 percent in states that did not expand. Much of the growth in the non-expansion states was from increased enrollment among previously eligible parents and children. Before last fiscal year, the highest spending hike in Medicaid was in 2002 when total costs soared nearly 13 percent, the report found. In that year, enrollment rose more than 9 percent after the economy tanked following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack.

Nationally, enrollment in Medicaid rose nearly 14 percent last year – including 18 percent on average in expansion states and about 5 percent in non-expansion states. States that did not expand eligibility still saw growth in enrollment because new online health insurance exchanges have helped find people who were previously eligible but not enrolled.

Despite the surge in enrollment, state Medicaid officials from Arizona, Colorado and Florida said they have seen no major problems with Medicaid enrollees getting access to health care.

“In Colorado, access to care has been adequate,” Colorado Medicaid Director Gretchen Hammer said at a KFF briefing. In Florida, Medicaid Director Justin Senior said he has heard a “low level of complaints” from beneficiaries about getting appointments with providers.

Florida, like most states, has turned over most of its Medicaid operations to private managed care firms that get paid a set monthly fee to care for enrollees. Critics have said the plans often make it harder for recipients to get care, but state officials say the plans help control spending and that the insurers are held accountable for providing good care.

Nationwide, more than 70 million Americans are enrolled in Medicaid, according to the latest federal estimates. About half of those enrolled are children.

The Kaiser report found states are becoming more active in changing how health care is delivered and paid for, and getting more involved in reducing smoking and improving healthy behaviors.

“This is a new era for Medicaid,” said Diane Rowland, KFF’s executive vice president and the executive director of the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. “There is more of a focus on public health. The old Medicaid program was seen as a bill payer. It is a much different program today and driving changes in the overall health care delivery system.”

— Associated Press

Prosecutors lose bid to delay San Francisco crime trial

SAN FRANCISCO — Federal prosecutors planning to file a murder charge against a key defendant in a money laundering and racketeering probe centered in San Francisco’s Chinatown lost a bid Thursday to push back his trial.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer ruled that Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow will go on trial Nov. 2 as scheduled, saying Chow’s right to a speedy trial would be “severely impacted” if the case were delayed.

The investigation of Chow also led to the arrest and conviction of a California state senator.

Prosecutors had asked for a delay in Chow’s trial to allow the U.S. Department of Justice to determine whether to seek the death penalty against him in connection with the 2006 murder of Allen Leung, who preceded Chow as the leader of the Chinese fraternal group Ghee Kung Tong. Prosecutors have said one of Chow’s co-defendants will testify that Chow was angry with Leung over money and solicited his murder.

The FBI alleges Ghee Kung Tong was a racketeering enterprise, and that undercover agents laundered $2.6 million in cash from illegal bookmaking through the organization. The investigation of the group also led to the arrest of California state Sen. Leland Yee, who pleaded guilty to racketeering in July.

A murder charge would mark a dramatic escalation in the criminal case against Chow, who is currently facing money laundering and racketeering charges to which he has pleaded not guilty. Breyer said that if a grand jury indicts Chow on a capital murder charge, he will exclude it from Chow’s upcoming trial.

Chow’s attorney, Curtis Briggs, said his client had nothing to do with Leung’s death, calling the allegation “ridiculous.”

— Associated Press

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