Category Archives: Business

Did the New York Times Break Connecticut Law in Disclosing Trump’s Tax Return?

by Categorized: Business, Ethics, First Amendment, Legal Affairs, Media, Politics, Transparency/FOI Date:

The New York Times has a widely shared piece this morning, disclosing that Donald Trump reported a nearly $916 million loss on his income taxes in 1995 – a financial drubbing that The Times said could have allowed him to wipe out any income-tax liability for 18 years.

Partisans on both sides are engaged in typical partisan hysteria, and some are wondering on social media: Is this sort of reporting legal?

The story included copies of Trump’s state tax returns from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Most people in my profession have salivated over the thought of gaining times_trumptaxaccess to tax filings for those whose background we’re investigating. But personal tax returns naturally are confidential, and the Department of Revenue Services would promptly laugh at us if we asked to see them.

So was The Times on shaky legal ground in publishing Trump’s Connecticut Non-Resident Tax Return?

Laws are often open to interpretation, but the answer is probably not. Yes there are state laws that provide penalties for disclosing tax information; no, those laws probably don’t apply to The Times.

Section 12-15 of the Connecticut General Statutes makes it illegal to inspect or disclose “return information”  – including the sort of information The Times reported. But the law’s prohibition is limited to current and former state employees and to others who have authorized access to the returns (such as contractors hired to help process or store returns). Those with unauthorized access – including The Times – aren’t covered by the law. (Connecticut’s law is substantially similar to the federal law on tax-return privacy.)

So if a state official provided the document, that individual may have broken 12-15, which carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. But that law doesn’t appear to apply to The Times or its reporters. (That said, it seems unlikely the document came directly from the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services; The Times indicates that all three tax returns arrived together in an anonymous package on Sept. 23.)

But if an anonymous tipster broke the law in leaking the records, is The Times still on the hook for publishing them? Again, probably not – although lawyers for Trump have threatened legal action. In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court considered a case in which a Pennsylvania radio station broadcast a recording of an illegally intercepted cell phone call between union officials during a contentious contract negotiation. The union officials sued, but the court sided with the radio station, ruling that journalists cannot be held liable for publishing illegally obtained information related to legitimate matters of public concern, so long as the journalists did not participate in illegally obtaining the information.

“Privacy of communication is an important interest. However, in this suit, privacy concerns give way when balanced against the interest in publishing matters of public importance,” the court wrote in Bartnicki v. Vopper. “A stranger’s illegal conduct does not suffice to remove the First Amendment shield from speech about a matter of public concern.”

The heated debate over the propriety and relevance of The Times’ story will likely go on. Just perhaps not in a court of law.

Pain At The Pump For Luxury Car Owners

by Categorized: Business, Consumer Affairs, Data Date:

Retail gas prices in the region have been cut in half since 2011, but a degree of pain persists for one class of drivers: those with high-end cars that require high-octane fuel.

If you luxury-car drivers feel like you’ve been paying an extra premium for premium fuel lately, you’re right. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration PremiumGasshow that the price gap between regular unleaded and super unleaded has soared in the past year – the result, experts say, of tight competition for regular gas and costlier processing for the high-end stuff.

For most of the last decade, as the chart below shows, premium fuel was 7 or 8 percent more expensive than regular. But the gap began rising sharply in mid-2014. After a dip in early 2015, the gap skyrocketed, rising from a 12-percent surcharge last June to nearly 31 percent on Monday.

That translates to an extra 55 cents a gallon for premium unleaded today, more than twice the extra cost for most of the decade, even when fuel prices were far higher. And at some stations, the surcharge is far higher. At one West Hartford Shell station, premium users this week were paying an extra 90 cents a gallon – a 47-percent bump – for super unleaded. That’s an extra $25 every time a Lincoln Navigator owner fills up.

Why the big gap? Part of the explanation is the hyper-competitive market for regular gas, which makes up the vast majority of a typical service station’s sales. That’s the price most prominently featured on the giant lighted signs at gas stations, and it generates the thinnest profit margins as stations compete for price-conscious consumers. But drivers of pricier cars with more demanding engines tend to be less price-conscious and make for welcome targets as gas station owners look to make up for thin margins on regular gas.

“Stations find competitive benefits in dropping regular prices as a way to attract customers,” AAA reported in response to questions about gas prices. “The reality is that many premium customers will continue to shop at the same station regardless as to whether the price is dropping as fast as regular.”

At the same time, even with the hefty surcharge, some regular-unleaded users are splurging, since even the inflated prices for high-octane gas are far lower than the prices charged for regular gas just months ago. The current average price for premium gas in New England – about $2.32 a gallon – is 45 cents a gallon cheaper than customers were paying for regular gas last June. As regular-gas users treat themselves to high-test, that changes the supply/demand equation.

And some experts also say that boosting the octane of the raw fuel delivered to stations has become more expensive, particularly as the formulation of North American shale oil – the fuel currently in abundant supply – is better suited to regular unleaded than super. “As a result,” according to AAA, “supplies of regular gasoline have remained more plentiful than premium.” And that, too, changes the supply/demand equation.

But there may be relief on the way. AAA reports that historically, the price gap between regular and premium gas is at its highest in the winter. “In the summer,” the association reports, “the spread between regular and premium is at its closest.”

And summer is a mere 111 days away.PremiumGas


Claim Check: Tom Foley, Sprague and The Bibb Co.

by Categorized: Business, Claim Check, Employment, Politics Date:


No matter what twists and turns the gubernatorial race takes in the next 11 weeks, one thing seems abundantly clear: Democrats will never tire of airing video of Republican Tom Foley sparring with workers at a struggling paper factory in Sprague.

With Foley’s victory in last week’s Republican primary for governor, incumbent Gov. Dan Malloy wasted no time putting out a TV ad replaying the awkward confrontation – and tying it to Foley’s past control of a defunct textile plant that featured prominently in anti-Foley ads four years ago.

It’s an irresistible play. But is it accurate? Continue reading

More and More U.S. Clothes Are Made by Bangladeshi Workers Earning Pennies an Hour

by Categorized: Business, Consumer Affairs, Data, Employment, Finance, Politics, Poverty Date:

U.S. consumers horrified by the tragic building collapse in Bangladesh might want to check the manufacturer’s label on the clothing they’re wearing; data show the compact nation is now the fourth-largest source of apparel imported into the U.S., delivering $4.5 billion a year in goods.

That’s more than double the amount imported from Bangladesh a decade ago, and in that same time frame, Bangladesh’s share of the U.S. apparel market has nearly doubled as well. In 2003, Bangladesh ranked 10th among nations supplying the United States, with 3 percent of all apparel imports, Department of Commerce numbers show. But as manufacturers have sought ever-lower labor costs, that figure has jumped to 5.8 percent.

The shift in manufacturing to Bangladesh comes as wages are rising slowly in other apparel-producing countries, including China. Pay in Bangladesh increased three years ago as well, but the minimum wage for garment workers in the country is still about $38 a month.

Efforts to increase that amount have met resistance from factory owners and government officials, who fear even a small uptick in wages will lead Western brands to look elsewhere for suppliers.

Minimum Wage Fight – Historically, $9 an Hour is Higher than Average but Hardly Unprecedented

by Categorized: Business, Data, Finance, Politics, Poverty Date:

Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposal to increase the minimum wage in Connecticut to $9 an hour over the next two years predictably has brought strong reactions from those who find it a boost for the working poor that will energize retail sales and those who see it as a jobs killer that will hurt small businesses.

But how does that $9 figure compare historically over the 62 years the legislature has been setting the minimum wage in Connecticut? Higher than average, but hardly unprecedented.

As the chart below shows, Connecticut’s minimum wage, in inflation-adjusted dollars, topped the equivalent of $9 an hour for most of the 1960s and ’70s, reaching a peak of $10.63 in 1971. But for the past 34 years, the minimum wage has been set below the equivalent of $9.

Both Malloy’s proposal, and the current minimum wage, are far more than the buying power set by the first legislatively established minimum wage in 1951, when the statutory 75-cent wage was the equivalent of $6.71 an hour in today’s dollars. Inflation ate away at that value until the legislature raised the minimum wage in 1957, and since then, the wage has fallen below the equivalent of $6.71 an hour only once – in 1995.

When the legislature has boosted the minimum wage – as they have done more than two dozen times since 1951- the new rate on average has been the equivalent of $8.78 an hour. Malloy’s proposal exceeds that by 22 cents, or about $450 a year for a full-time worker.


Twitter Users Weren’t the Only Ones Panicked by AP Hack

by Categorized: Business, Data Date:

The hacking of the Associated Press’s Twitter account created more than an embarrassment for the global wire service and way too many panicked retweets. It also caused an ever-so-brief panic on Wall Street.

As the chart below shows, trading volume soared and the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted (as did broader market indices) following a bogus Tweet indicating multiple explosions at the White House.

The market quickly recovered, but in that brief window, the market capitalization of U.S. stocks fell and rose by about $180 billion – suggesting that some people made a lot of money, and other people lost it, during the prank.


Courant/Frontline Investigation Continues: The Deep Divide Over Guns in America

by Categorized: Business, Law Enforcement, Politics, Public Safety, Technology Date:

Following the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, many called for a renewed discussion of gun violence in America, predicting that the tragedy would bring the nation closer to agreement on solutions to keep deadly weapons out of the wrong hands.

But the Courant, in collaboration with the PBS show “Frontline,” found that two months after the attack that killed 20 students and six educators, the cultural gulf over guns  – in America, in Connecticut, even in Newtown – is deeper than ever, with little common ground between those who see guns as a source of enjoyment and protection and those who see guns only as killing machines.

A Deeper Divide: The Gun Control Debate After Newtown” explores that divide, from a dispute in Newtown last year over unregulated outdoor shooting,  to the newly energized supporters of stricter gun-control, to the newly steadfast gun enthusiasts marshaling to defend rights they fear they will lose to what they see as emotional and ineffective legislative proposals.

The package of stories includes two sidebars. “A Deeper Divide: In Newtown and Caught in the Middle” focuses on a lifelong hunter in Newtown who feels heat from both sides of the debate. “A Deeper Divide: Two Views on One Gun” explores the difficulty of defining the term “assault weapon,” and illustrates how far apart the two camps are, with the industry describing military-style semi-automatic firearms as “modern sporting rifles,” and one gun-control advocate describing those same guns as “military-grade people killers.”

The stories on the gun debate follows the publication of “Raising Adam Lanza” an in-depth examination by the Courant and “Frontline” on the life of the Sandy Hook shooter and his relationship to his mother, Nancy Lanza.

At 10 p.m. tonight, “Frontline” will air a special report on both joint projects with the Courant.