Never Mind What Lew or Bill Clinton or Camp Say: Opening Line

One day after Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, on behalf of the Obama administration, laid down the first official initiatives to thwart inversions, some of those companies that were the primary targets of the administration’s efforts responded with what can justifiably be described as a thumb in Obama’s eye.

Burger King said, meh, no big deal. We’re still going to Canada.

Pfizer, which had run aground (for now) in its attempt to buy AstraZeneca, came out with yet a new and different target for its inversionary tactics, Actavis. That scoop, by Manuel Baigorri, David Welch and Matthew Campbell, really threw into relief what a muddle this has all become, because just two days ago it was Actavis that was said to have been sniffing around Allergan, which, as we know, is also the target of Valeant.

Medtronic and Covidien, AbbVie and Shire, Horizon Pharma and Vidara Therapeutics, Mylan and Abbot Labs’s generics division -- think any of these deals are going to pull up short even with the new rules?

Not likely, especially when Dave Camp, the House’s chief tax-code writer, starts lobbing grenades from what appears to be a parallel universe, and Bill Clinton undercuts the administration’s attempted stance at a moral argument behind its opposition to this tax dodge.

Speaking at his Clinton Global Initiative yesterday, the former president deftly -- though not really -- took a pass when asked whether he endorsed the administration’s view of inversions as unpatriotic. Instead he homed in on the arguments of those -- like Camp -- who say it makes more sense to tear the whole house down than to fix the broken window pane that’s letting the heat out. The tax law -- his tax law -- needs to be scrapped, Clinton said.

But he didn’t break much ground. Nor did Camp, who left us in awe of comments that are a staple of the Republican playbook now -- accuse your political opponents of the very thing for which you yourself are most culpable.

“Until the White House gets serious about tax reform, we are going to keep losing good companies and jobs to countries that have or are actively reforming their tax laws,” he said. “I fear this administration is only interested in doing the bare minimum -– just enough to say they care.”

Probably safe to say the Republican Party is pro-business, right? (Those at the Ex-Im Bank, please refrain from answering.) So, why would they ever really want to change the tax laws? It’s in the Republicans’ interests not to, in fact, at least for a while. Inaction on this issue reaps the benefit of an indebted business community, which only reinforces the ties that bind.

And if the party in power in the House does ever take up rewriting the law, perhaps in 2015, after they win control of the Senate -- what might they extract from Democrats and the rest of the nation with tax reform as the bargaining chip? With both halls of Congress in their control and companies behind them with checkbooks, they could act with political impunity, leaving companies free to shamble off to sunny Ireland or Guernsey all they want.

Besides, who cares what Bill says. Mrs. Clinton?

***

New-home sales at 10 a.m. EDT is the day’s main U.S. economic indicator.

Coincidentally, KB Home is due to report earnings before the bell, as are Paychex Inc. and Vail Resorts.

A short time ago, the Ifo Institute said German business confidence fell to a 17-month low of 104.7 in September from 106.3 in August. Economists had predicted a decline to 105.8.

***

- The UN General Assembly, which continues through Sept. 30, will be addressed at 10 a.m. by Obama, who will lead a UN Security Council meeting later on foreign terrorist fighters. He plans to remain in New York City overnight, which means traffic will be ugly. - Erdogan indicates Turkey is ready to join the fight against I.S. - Pimco’s Total Return ETF is under investigation at the SEC for inflating asset values, the WSJ reports. - Xi takes aim at democracy movement in Hong Kong in speech to business leaders. - Rajoy abandons law aimed at restricting abortions in Spain. - U.S. ready to lift arms embargo on Vietnam amid tension with China. - The Home Depot hack has started to reveal money being stolen, the WSJ reports. - Secret Service devises advanced security measure for White House perimeter. - BlackBerry introduces the Passport phone. - Apple’s iOS 8 is crashing apps. - Citizens Financial’s IPO priced at $21.50, below the estimated range. - Rocket Internet and Travelport Worldwide Ltd. price IPOs today. - A 12,000-square-foot apartment at 60th & Park with a price of $130 million? Talk about a parallel universe. - More insurers will offer plans through the Affordable Care Act in 2015. - De Blasio addresses the U.K. Labour Party’s annual conference. No, really. - Rick Perry attends fundraiser for Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, who appears to need the help. - The Clinton Global Initiative concludes. - Rosh Hashanah begins tonight and ends Friday night. - Atlantic City, New Jersey, plans to start laying off some municipal employees. - Rahm Emmanuel calls on Illinois to decriminalize marijuana. - Miss America is accused of being a sorority bully while at Hofstra University. - Today is, National Punctuation Day. - Flo & Eddie rock the digital music industry with copyright lawsuit. - Mo’ne Davis’s jersey is headed to Cooperstown.

***

This is one of those debates that no one sensible should want any part of.

Seeking to provide the greener pastures sought by many in New York’s Hasidic community, developer Shalom Lamm has essentially bought the better part of a small town in the Catskills, Bloomingburg, where he has already started his project to build almost 400 townhouses for the ultra-orthodox Jews.

Bloomingburg’s current villagers are so opposed, Freeman Klopott writes, that they’re considering the nuclear option of effectively disbanding their own government and merging with the neighboring, larger town of Mamakating. That town, about 30 times larger than Bloomingburg, could then take steps to block the development.

Bloomingburgers say it’s basically the best option to save the way of life that drew them to the village in the first place. Lamm and his defenders say yeah, right; it’s about the Jews.

How would this go down if these were blacks instead of Jews? Better yet, how did it go down in lower Manhattan around the turn of the 20th century when immigrants basically colonized sections of the city for their own kind -- the Chinese in Chinatown, the Jews on Rivington Street, Little Italy, Brighton Beach, etc.? Presumably these kinds of concerns arose then as well.

But what would the great city of New York have become without those neighborhoods? The Catskills aren’t Manhattan, of course. Is it about the Mayberry way of life, or something else?

As Klopott’s story unfolds we are party to some of the same thinly veiled justifications we always hear, assertions that could just as easily work if applied in reverse:

“It’s obvious it would be a voter bloc and they’d have all the power in electing the next mayor,” one resident told Klopott.

That’s how it works, yes. It’s how it worked for whoever got to Bloomingburg first, too.

***

When budgets shrink, the first things to go are those often thought of as discretionary luxuries, such as spending on arts and culture. But is culture a luxury in a place like Greece, where part of the roadmap to human antiquity is to be found, even when Greece is still just barely keeping its head above water after six years of recession?

The recent discovery by archeologists of a tomb thousands of years old in the ancient city of Amphipolis, guarded by the statues of two women, has captivated the imagination of Greeks and resurrected the debate as austerity-fatigue grows more palpable, Maria Petrakis reports.

The question of who occupies the tomb is beside the point.

“It doesn’t matter who’s inside,” culture ministry Secretary-General Lina Mendoni tells Petrakis. It’s the monument itself and what it means to Greeks that matters.

The ministry’s budget has been halved since 2010, leaving Mendoni and Greek authorities confronting what to them is a distasteful proposition: taking corporate money.

Petrakis finds it’s something Italy has done with some success, and with the find at Amphipolis, it’s something the Greeks might have to learn from the Italians.

***

Frankly the numbers in this story are depressing.

Clea Benson and Alexis Leondis, writing today’s Mortgages column, break down just how small a percentage of U.S. mortgage holders is represented by blacks and Hispanics.

Blacks account for about 13 percent of the U.S. population and held 4.8 percent of mortgages in 2013. Hispanics account for about 17 percent of the population and held about 7.3 percent.

White people? They held more than 70 percent.

Viewing the ashes of the Great Recession, the minorities have decided to stay away from the loans, even though the FHA and FHFA are trying to make things better for those whose mortgages sour.

This has resurrected calls for “targeted programs to help get people of color into the system,” according to one housing finance and policy activist Benson and Leondis spoke with.

Does that sound like affirmative action for mortgages to you, too?

***

Here’s a lede you don’t read every day, courtesy of Dara Doyle:

“Sept. 24 (Bloomberg) -- In Dublin, a 31-year-old bicycle rickshaw driver is in the cross hairs of the Venezuelan government for black market currency trading.”

OK, you’ve got our interest.

Turns out not everyone moves to Ireland for a lower corporate tax rate. As Doyle shows, it’s become a campus of black-market currency trading. Venezuelan students traveling to study in Irish schools have fewer restrictions on currency, but they become a side door to capital flight when they’re more industrious than studious.

It’s not just students, of course. We meet the rickshaw driver, a former TV producer back home in South America, who’s taking advantage of a market for euros that pays about 97 bolivars, more than 10 times the official rate.

The Irish government is even taking steps to crack down on the abuses, Doyle writes, which is a little funny. Venezuelans using Ireland as a venue to get better terms on their currency is wrong, but U.S. companies arriving with carpetbags to get better terms on their taxes is OK.

***

We had trouble comprehending Father when he explained, after moving to a new house during our childhood, that he didn’t need a raincoat because his train to work every day dropped him off underneath his office building. Spatial relations were still a little abstract for a 6-year-old.

When we got a little older we took the trip with him to the bank’s office tower one Saturday morning (in a tie) and, upon emerging from the underground train station into the concourse, we got it. The warren sprawled out under the center of the city, and you could have lunch or dinner, get your hair cut, buy almost anything and cover several city blocks sheltered from the elements.

Much later we got a look at Toronto’s underground retail labyrinth and saw how it’s really done.

Why did it stop where it did?, we wondered with a dawning sense of futurism. Why not keep it going, and create an entire underground city? The crew from the Cities desk finds many others who asked the same question.

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