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    The European Union will insist that border controls be put up along the Irish border if Britain leaves the bloc without a deal and the British government will be responsible for that, a top EU official said. Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, told Sky News in an interview broadcast Sunday that the blame for that would rest squarely on Britain. Border controls could in theory go up soon after Oct. 31, Britain's scheduled departure date. Brussels was 'in no way responsible' for the consequences of a no-deal Brexit, Juncker told Sky News. 'We have to make sure that the interests of the European Union and of the internal market will be preserved,' he said. How to maintain a frictionless border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, is the thorniest issue in the Brexit discussions. An invisible border is a key component of 1998's Good Friday peace accord that brought peace in Northern Ireland after decades of sectarian violence. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is insisting that the Irish border provision in the Brexit deal negotiated by his predecessor, Theresa May, be scrapped. The so-called Irish backstop is effectively a guarantee that no border will go up on the island of Ireland by requiring that Britain stick to EU trade rules — even though it won't have any say in the formulation of those rules after Brexit — until the two sides have negotiated a comprehensive trade deal. That would leave Britain locked into the EU's orbit for years. British lawmakers rejected May's deal three times this year, with many doing so because of their opposition to the backstop. Johnson is trying to get the EU to agree to replace the backstop with 'alternative arrangements' — a mix of technology to replace border checks and a common area for agricultural products and animals covering the whole island of Ireland. Juncker said he is open to alternative arrangements, but noted that in a no-deal Brexit, an animal entering Northern Ireland could then enter the EU via Ireland if there are no border controls. 'This will not happen,' he said. 'We have to preserve the health and the safety of our citizens.' Under the rules of the EU's single market, goods and people can move across the 28 countries seamlessly. Johnson got elected by Conservative Party members in July on the promise that the country will leave the EU on Oct. 31 come what may. British lawmakers, however, have passed a law that says the prime minister has to request an extension to the Brexit date if Parliament does not back a deal or a no-deal departure by Oct. 19. That law has raised questions on exactly when the country will leave. Parliament is now suspended until Oct. 14, just over two weeks before the U.K. is due to leave the EU. However, it may be forced to return if the Supreme Court decides this week that Johnson's request broke the law when he suspended Parliament. The Supreme Court is deciding whether Johnson unlawfully shut Parliament to prevent lawmakers from scrutinizing his plan to leave the EU with or without a divorce deal. Opponents also accuse him of misleading Queen Elizabeth II, whose formal approval was needed to suspend the legislature. The government says that Johnson acted lawfully and the issue of suspending parliament is one for politicians, not the courts. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the government will respect the Supreme Court's ruling on Johnson's move to suspend Parliament. 'Of course, we will respect whatever the legal ruling is from the Supreme Court,' he told the BBC on Sunday. Pressed on whether Northern Ireland could have different EU customs arrangements than the rest of the UK, Raab said: 'No, of course, that would be wrong.' ___ Follow AP's full coverage of Brexit and British politics at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit
  • More than 600,000 travelers with Thomas Cook were on edge Sunday wondering if they will be able to get home as one of the world's oldest and largest travel companies teetered on the edge of collapse. The company, which confirmed Friday it was seeking 200 million pounds ($250 million) in extra funding to avoid going bust, was in last-ditch talks with shareholders and creditors to stave off a collapse. Sky News reported that discussions were taking place Sunday at the London-based headquarters of law firm Slaughter & May. Thomas Cook would not comment on that report but said it has sought to reassure customers that their flights are continuing to operate as normal. It said most package holidays for British travelers are protected by the ATOL insurance scheme. The financial difficulties were also raising questions about the jobs of the 22,000 staff employed by Thomas Cook around the world, including 9,000 in Britain. The tour operator recently raised 900 million pounds ($1.12 billion) in new capital, including from its leading Chinese shareholder Fosun. Unions and the main opposition Labour Party have urged the British government to intervene financially to save jobs if the company cannot raise the necessary funds. A collapse could leave around 150,000 travelers from Britain stranded, along with hundreds of thousands of travelers from other countries. In that scenario, Britain's Civil Aviation Authority would likely be ordered by the government to launch a major repatriation operation to fly stranded vacationers home, much like it did when Monarch Airlines went bust nearly two years ago. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said British holidaymakers will not be left stranded and that contingency planning was underway. 'I don't want to give all the details of it because it depends on the nature of how people are out there,' he told the BBC. 'But I can reassure people that, in the worst-case scenario, the contingency planning is there to avoid people being stranded.' Thomas Cook, which first started operating in 1841 with a one-day train excursion in England, has been struggling over the past few years for a variety of reasons. In May, the company reported in half-year results that it had a net debt burden of 1.25 billion pounds and cautioned that political uncertainty related to Britain's departure from the European Union had led to softer demand for summer holiday travel. Heatwaves over the past couple of summers in Europe have prompted many potential vacationers to stay at home, while higher fuel and hotel costs have weighed on the travel business. The company's troubles appear to be already afflicting those travelling under the Thomas Cook banner. One British vacationer told BBC radio that the Les Orangers beach resort in the Tunisian town of Hammamet, near Tunis, was demanding that visitors pay extra money for fear it won't be paid what it is owed by Thomas Cook. Ryan Farmer from Leicestershire told the BBC early Sunday that the hotel had summoned guests who were due to leave to go to its reception and 'pay additional fees, obviously because of the situation with Thomas Cook.' He said many tourists refused the demand since they had already paid Thomas Cook, so the hotel's security guards shut the hotel's gates and 'were not allowing anyone to leave.' It was like 'being held hostage,' said Farmer, who is due to leave Tuesday. He said he would also refuse to pay if the hotel asked him. The Associated Press called the hotel, as well as the British embassy in Tunis, but no officials or managers were available for comment.
  • Barron Hilton, a hotel magnate who expanded his father's chain and became a founding owner in the American Football League, died Thursday at his Los Angeles home. He was 91. Hilton's family said he died of natural causes. He transformed Hilton into the industry's top brand during his 30 years as its chief executive. The Blackstone Group bought the international chain's 2,800 hotels — including its famed Waldorf-Astoria — for $26 billion in 2007. 'The Hilton family mourns the loss of a remarkable man,' said Steven M. Hilton, his son and chairman of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, said in a statement. 'He lived a life of great adventure and exceptional accomplishment.' An avid pilot who served as a Navy photographer during World War II, Hilton didn't begin working for his father's company until 1951, after he'd made his own fortune in orange juice products, an oil company and an aircraft-leasing business. Hilton also founded the Los Angeles Chargers in the AFL and oversaw the AFL-NFL merger. William Barron Hilton was born in Dallas in 1927 to Conrad N. Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels, and Mary Adelaide Barron. Hilton challenged his father's will — arguing the foundation's shares of Conrad Hilton's fortune that were being used to help Catholic nuns could leave the company open to a hostile takeover— in 10-year legal battle that ended in a settlement. 'It was a very painful decade,' Hilton told USA Today in 1995. 'Hilton vs. the nuns was not the best public relations move.' Hilton's wife, Marilyn Hawley Hilton, died in 2004. He is survived by eight children, 15 grandchildren — among whom are famed heiresses Paris Hilton and Nicky Hilton — and four great-grandchildren. Hilton was the chairman emeritus of Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. He left about 97% of his estate to the foundation, which expects the donation to grow its endowment from $2.9 billion to $6.3 billion.
  • Democrats were quick to back working-class United Auto Workers in their strike against General Motors, delivering doughnuts and holding picket signs outside factories to show solidarity. It's a union they long have aligned with politically. There were no doughnuts from Republicans. Led by President Donald Trump, GOP officials have largely avoided taking sides in the strike that threatens to upend the economy in Michigan, an election battleground, a year before the 2020 vote. Both here and nationally, most Republicans said little about the substance of the dispute beyond hope for a speedy resolution. The muted response reflects the tricky politics of labor for Republicans. Trump has made inroads with members of some unions, due partly to promises to get tough on trade and keep manufacturing jobs in the United States. The message pulled key voters away from their Democratic union bosses, who Trump argues are corrupt. But a strike prompted in part over GM's plan to close American plants highlights Trump's unfulfilled promises on manufacturing and gives Democrats a chance to play up their union credentials. Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren planned to show up on the picket line in Michigan on Sunday, with rival Bernie Sanders expected this coming week. Nearly all the candidates have tweeted support for the workers. 'Proud to stand with @UAW to demand fair wages and benefits for their members. America's workers deserve better,' Joe Biden tweeted. The union says Biden will be at a picket line in at the Fairfax plant in Kansas City, Kansas, on Sunday. Trump is in a bind. Backing the union would undermine Trump's message that labor does not advocate for its workers and give a powerful Democratic force a boost before an election. Siding with GM would call into question his promises to defend workers and he would risk getting blamed for economic woes in Rust Belt states he needs to win reelection. His task gets tougher the longer the strike goes on. 'There is a history of this issue being treacherous in Michigan,' said Michigan State University political scientist Matt Grossmann. He noted that Republican Mitt Romney's presidential campaign suffered in 2012 when Democrats pointed repeatedly to an opinion article he wrote opposing the auto bailout. The headline: 'Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.' 'It is treacherous to be against the autoworkers,' Grossmann said. The president has appeared mindful of the dilemma, saying little about the strike. On Monday, the first day of the walkout, he told reporters at the White House the dispute was 'sad' and he made a distinction between workers and their union leaders. 'I don't want General Motors to be building plants outside of this country,' he said. 'My relationship has been very powerful with the auto workers — not necessarily the top person or two, but the people that work doing automobiles.' The strike is playing out as a federal corruption investigation against top UAW officials widens. The FBI raided UAW President Gary Jones' suburban Detroit home last month and prosecutors have charged 11 people in the investigation so far, leading many of the 49,000 workers nationwide to question whether leaders have their backs . Trump may be wise to try to separate union workers from their leaders. Although union members have historically supported Democrats, Trump's promises to rewrite free trade agreements appeared to resonate with many in manufacturing areas. Nationally, union members were just slightly more likely than other voters to support Democrats in 2018, when the party gained control of the House. Six in 10 union voters supported Democratic candidates in House races, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 115,000 midterm voters nationwide. But Trump has struggled to make good on promises to stop companies from shipping jobs overseas. From the first announcement in 2018, he was quick to criticize GM for wanting to close U.S. plants, an issue at the center of current fight. He met with CEO Mary Barra at the White House on Sept. 5, days after suggesting the company should move jobs from China to the U.S. GM has not been persuaded yet. Trump's escalation of the trade war with China has hurt manufacturers, with factories in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania shedding workers since the end of 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. His administration's decision to stop California from setting its own emission standards for cars and trucks also has created uncertainty in the industry. 'If this strike goes into a second week, you're going to see parts of Michigan go into a recession,' said Patrick Anderson, CEO of the Anderson Economic Group, an East Lansing-based consulting firm whose work includes analyzing the auto industry. 'Parts of Michigan are feeling it today. You're already seeing losses in income and people cutting back on their spending.' There is some expectation that Trump will intervene in an attempt to prevent that. But the White House denied a report this past week that it engaged in talks with the company and the union. Michigan-based Republican strategist John Sellek said he believes Trump is on the side of the workers but is trying to 'thread the needle' and not 'blow up' GM's offer to save a plant or two. 'That fits his electoral victory path, and it fits his policy positions on trade,' he said. 'He's walking a more careful path rhetorically for now. But if he decides on any given day that it's time to jump in with both feet, we shouldn't be surprised that he does.' GM's proposal includes creating an electric vehicle battery assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, where the company is in the process of closing a small-car assembly plant. In addition, GM would pay for an electric pickup truck that would go into the Detroit-Hamtramck plant, which the company also wants to close. The Lordstown facility would offer lower wages, according to a person briefed on the matter who was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity. The union wants to add jobs that pay the top UAW wage. GM workers who were picketing Friday outside the Grand River factory in Lansing — one that makes Cadillacs and Chevy Camaros — were mixed on whether Trump should weigh in. Many said their top priority is giving temporary workers a path to permanent jobs. Others also want commitments that vehicles would be made in the U.S. Keith Cannon, 47, of Lansing, said Trump, whom he does not back, should engage. He interpreted Trump's remarks about the strike as being supportive of workers. 'It's important because it affects the country he's running,' said Cannon, a 19-year GM worker who as a UAW district committeeman represents workers in disputes with management. 'He should weigh in on it because ultimately we affect the community. You have restaurants, stores, businesses that rely on us to support them as much as they support us with their services.' Cannon said he cannot spend much locally while living on strike pay of only $250 per week. Democratic presidential candidates are beginning to flock to the picket lines. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar went to Detroit on Thursday and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan met Monday with strikers in Lordstown, where GM halted production earlier this year, laying off 1,400 employees. ___ Burnett reported from Chicago. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.
  • The British government was urged Saturday to step in and prevent Thomas Cook, one of the world's oldest and largest travel companies, from going bust potentially within days, a development that could leave around 150,000 British holidaymakers struggling to get home. The Transport Salaried Staffs Association, which represents workers at the debt-laden company, said the government should be ready to assist with 'real financial support.' In a letter to Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom, the union's general secretary, Manuel Cortes, said it was 'incumbent upon the government to act if required and save this iconic cornerstone of the British high street and the thousands of jobs that go with it.' Thomas Cook confirmed Friday it was seeking 200 million pounds ($250 million) in extra funding to avoid a collapse. The tour operator said it was in talks with stakeholders such as leading Chinese shareholder Fosun to bridge a funding gap. The money required would be a 'seasonal stand-by facility' and come on top of the 900 million pounds of new capital already raised, the company said. Any failure to raise the required capital would elicit questions about the jobs of the 22,000 staff Thomas Cook employs around the world, including 9,000 in Britain. 'The company must be rescued no matter what,' Cortes said. 'No British government in its right mind would countenance the loss of so many jobs and the prospect of just one major travel operator - TUI - controlling the mass market.' Should Thomas Cook go under, Britain's Civil Aviation Authority would likely be ordered to launch a major repatriation operation to fly stranded vacationer home, much in the way it had to with Monarch Airlines, when it went bust nearly two years ago. In May, Thomas Cook reported in half-year results that it had a net debt burden of 1.25 billion pounds. It said political uncertainty related to Britain's departure from the European Union had led to softer demand for summer holidays. The company said higher fuel and hotel costs were also weighing on business.
  • If U.S. consumers ever ditch fuel burners for electric vehicles, then the United Auto Workers union is in trouble. Gone would be thousands of jobs at engine and transmission plants across the industrial Midwest, replaced by smaller workforces at squeaky-clean mostly automated factories that mix up chemicals to make batteries. The union is keenly aware of this possibility as it negotiates for the future as much as the present in contract talks with General Motors. Meanwhile, more than 49,000 union workers are on strike against the company and have shut down its factories for the past six days. GM CEO Mary Barra has promised an 'all-electric future,' with the company going through a painful restructuring to raise cash in part to develop 20 electric models that it plans to sell worldwide by 2023. In the contract talks, GM has offered to build an electric vehicle battery factory in Lordstown, Ohio, where the company is closing an assembly plant. The automaker, according to a person briefed on the offer, wants the plant to be run by a joint venture or a battery company. It would be staffed by far fewer union workers who would be paid less than the $30 per hour that UAW members make on the assembly lines, said the person, who didn't want to be identified because contract details are confidential. For the union, getting the top pay at Lordstown is crucial because battery jobs could one day supplant many of those at GM's 10 U.S. powertrain factories that now employ more than 10,500 hourly workers. Also at stake is the future of the union, which has lost high-paying auto jobs over the past 30 years, said Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst for Navigant Research who follows the auto industry. 'I can see why the UAW would reject such a deal,' Abuelsamid said. 'To accept a lower wage tier for employees at Lordstown or any other plant where GM wants to do something similar, I think that would be foolish for them.' For the company, however, the lower wages are needed to keep costs competitive with other automakers who will contract out battery cell and pack manufacturing to nonunion factories that pay less than the UAW wage, Abuelsamid said. GM also must reign in expenses as it tries to sell more electric vehicles, which now are more expensive than those powered by gas, he said. The company won't give details about how many workers would be employed at the Lordstown battery plant or how much they'll be paid. But the number won't be anywhere near the $30 an hour top wage at the assembly plant, which two years ago employed 4,500 people making the Chevrolet Cruze compact car. The only GM plant comparable to what's being proposed in Lordstown now sits in Brownstown Township, Michigan. About 100 UAW workers there took battery cells made by LG Chem in Western Michigan and combined them into packs for the Chevrolet Volt rechargeable gas-electric car. The Volt was canceled last spring, and now 22 remaining workers make hybrid battery packs and assemble autonomous vehicle equipment. In 2009, the UAW agreed to a lower wage of $15 to $17 per hour at Brownstown to help get the Volt started. While there is potential for growth if electric car sales take off and more batteries are needed, no one is sure when or if that will happen in the U.S. Few are predicting that Barra's 'all electric future' is coming soon and the Trump administration has proposed rolling back fuel economy requirements. Fully electric vehicles currently make up about 1.5% of U.S. new vehicle sales, and LMC Automotive forecasts it will rise to only 7.5% by 2030. The forecasting firm doesn't see EV sales hitting 50% of the market until at least 2049. Globally it's a different story. Navigant sees growth from just over 1 million sales last year to 6.5 million by 2025. The surge is expected because of government incentives and fuel economy regulations in China. Currently, GM loses thousands on each Chevy Bolt electric car it sells, and it hasn't been able to mass produce enough of them to bring the cost down. Without large-volume production, it's tough to cut the price. Paying full union wages at Lordstown would push costs up. 'You can't be at a cost disadvantage in a market that's in its infancy,' said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president for LMC. Even if the union is successful at getting higher wages at battery plants, engine and transmission jobs will someday start to disappear, Abuelsamid said. He estimates that it will take only 25% to 50% of the current engine and transmission workforce to build battery cells, packs and electric motors. GM and others also could keep outsourcing battery cells and packs to nonunion plants as GM does now for the Bolt. Whether the union will make a stand on electric vehicles in this round of contract talks remains to be seen. It may decide that it doesn't want to set a lower-wage precedent that could spread to Fiat Chrysler or Ford. But if it can preserve health insurance and get pay raises, job guarantees, more profit-sharing and a path for temporary workers to go full-time, it may punt the issue to future contract talks, says Schuster. 'The ultimate path (to electric vehicles), in our opinion, is so far down the road that I'm not sure it has to be dealt with right now,' he said. 'I don't know if it has to be the thing that holds up a deal at this stage.' Workers at the powertrain plants know their future is in the balance, said Tim O'Hara, president of the UAW local in Lordstown. He expects the union to try to protect as many higher-paying jobs as it can. 'It's been on a lot of people's minds about the electric future,' O'Hara said. 'The goal is always to have the same kind of jobs with benefits and wages as you start out with.
  • Fresh water from Midwestern floods has killed oysters along the coasts of three states and cost Mississippi half of its blue crabs. Water that came through a Louisiana spillway killed 95% of the oysters in Mississippi's share of the Mississippi Sound and fed toxic algae blooms that closed the state's beaches, said Joe Spraggins, executive director of the state Department of Marine Resources. Seafood and tourism businesses, from bait shops and seafood processors to restaurants and hotels, have lost $120 million to $150 million, he said Friday. The governors of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama asked months ago for U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to declare a fisheries disaster, a designation needed to secure federal grants for those whose livelihoods were affected in the Gulf region's vital seafood industry. Alabama canceled its oyster season. It will be months before all the figures are in and the analysis completed to tell which Louisiana fisheries qualify, said Patrick Banks, assistant secretary for fisheries in the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Floodwaters from the Midwest and rains elsewhere poured down the Mississippi and into the Atchafalaya River. They wound up in the Gulf of Mexico — both through the rivers and via the huge, normally brackish lake that borders New Orleans, because a major spillway was opened twice for a total of more than four months to protect New Orleans' levees. A full 12 months' data is needed to compare losses to averages for the previous five years, with a 35% loss qualifying a fishery as a disaster. 'We're analyzing every fishery, every portion of the state, every species ... It's going to take some time to put all that information together,' Banks said recently. He said losses appear to have begun in November but analysts may find that the earliest effects didn't greatly damage catches until December or January, adding another month or two to the process. Oysters continue among the worst-hit fisheries, with brown shrimp, crab and finfish catches also down from a year ago, department figures indicate. 'You would always expect oysters to take the hardest hit just because they can't move out of harm's way,' Banks said. The mollusks can tolerate a wide range of salinity, but a long spell of fresh water coupled with high temperatures can be lethal. Spraggins said oysters need at least five years to recover. 'If you put a juvenile oyster in the water today it takes two years for the oyster to get to market size. They start spawning after about a year, so you lose two to three seasons of spawning per oyster. It multiplies from that point,' he said. Fresh water killed anywhere from three-quarters to all the oysters on several of Louisiana's public reefs, according to a state report. It said statewide oyster landings were down 28% on private reefs and 91% on public reefs from March through May. Louisiana produced 13.3 million pounds of oysters in 2017 — 54% of the nation's harvest, while Mississippi contributed about 2% and Alabama about 1% of the total, according to federal figures. The take from Louisiana's public reefs has made up less than 10% of Louisiana's total for the last decade or so, Banks said. He said mortality figures are likely to be the basis of a disaster application for public oyster reefs, where an estimated $20 million worth of the mollusks died. State officials said brown shrimp, crab and finfish catches are down significantly in the Mississippi and Atchafalaya river basins. Statewide brown shrimp landings are down 34% in volume and their value is down 44% over the five-year average. Commercial blue crab landings are down 26%, with drops ranging from 14% to 84% in individual basins, according to state figures. Salinity in most areas is returning to normal, according to the state report. But it said water in some coastal areas is low on oxygen and fish kills may become more common until the water cools down Spraggins was interviewed by telephone from Washington, D.C., where he said he will testify about Mississippi's problems next week before the Senate Commerce Committee. 'The first thing is to get them the facts of what's happening to Mississippi,' he said. 'The second thing would be to ask them to expedite any funding they may be able to give us.
  • The money-losing Three Mile Island, the 1979 site of the United States' worst commercial nuclear power accident, was shut down Friday by its energy giant owner. The end of the 45-year electricity-producing career of Three Mile Island Unit 1 came after Chicago-based Exelon Corp. tried and failed to get financial aid from Pennsylvania in the spring. Three Mile Island's Unit 1 opened in 1974 and was licensed to operate through 2034, but Exelon complained the plant was losing money in competitive electricity markets. Three Mile Island also faced particularly difficult economics because the 1979 accident that destroyed Unit 2 left it with just one reactor. Decommissioning Unit 1, dismantling its buildings and removing spent fuel could take six decades and cost more than $1 billion, Exelon estimates, although companies specializing in the handling of radioactive material are buying retired U.S. nuclear reactors and promising to do it in under a decade. The destroyed Unit 2 is sealed, and its twin cooling towers remain standing. Its core was shipped years ago to the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory. What is left inside the containment building remains highly radioactive and encased in concrete. Work to dismantle Unit 2 is scheduled to begin in 2041 and be completed in 2053, its owner, FirstEnergy, has said. No nuclear plant proposed after the 1979 accident has been successfully completed and put into operation in the United States.
  • Microsoft said Friday it will offer free security updates through the 2020 election in the United States — and in other interested democratic countries with national elections next year — for federally certified voting systems running on soon-to-be-outdated Windows 7 software. An Associated Press analysis previously found that the vast majority of 10,000 election jurisdictions in the U.S. use Windows 7 or an older operating system to create ballots, program voting machines, tally votes and report counts. Windows 7 reaches its 'end of life' on Jan. 14, meaning Microsoft stops providing free technical support and producing 'patches' to fix software vulnerabilities, which hackers can exploit. Cash-strapped election officials are scrambling to address this issue and what's essentially a one-year extension on additional costs. The promise of free updates does not address the cost of putting them in place or the time and cost of certifying such changes to a voting system. Fixing a new vulnerability requires that the companies resubmit the voting system for recertification, which can take weeks or even months. At a U.S. Election Assistance Commission forum last month, Microsoft's Ginny Badanes, who heads its Defending Democracy Program, said that election administrators should not be forced to make the difficult choice of 'using election systems with known vulnerabilities or applying security patches and, in so doing, taking their systems out of certification.' The commission develops voting system guidelines. In a blogpost Friday, Microsoft's vice president for security and trust, Tom Burt, said the company is working with government officials to try to streamline the lengthy certification process. Even if that happens, making the fixes is still difficult because election systems cannot legally be changed, for example, while administering military absentee ballots 45 days before the election. 'If an important patch comes out three to four weeks before an election, it causes us to wait to implement because we can't interfere in the election process that is already in motion,' said Louisiana's top election official, R. Kyle Ardoin, at the commission forum. The commission, in a statement, praised Microsoft's move. 'Election administrators and advocates had rightly voiced concern that budget limitations would hinder their ability to pay for extended Windows 7 support and could lead to election security challenges,' the commission said. 'Voters can now cast their ballots with confidence.' Maria Dill Benson, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Secretaries of State, said in an email that 'receiving this support will be a huge help to many.' Critics say the situation is an example of what can happen when private companies, with commercial interests, ultimately determine the security of election systems with a lack of federal requirements or oversight. Kevin Skoglund, chief technologist for Citizens for Better Elections, said the extension of support was helpful, but did not address the larger issues of the slow certification process and eventual labor costs. Nor, he said, does it 'change the fact that scarce federal, state, and local dollars are being spent on nearly-expired software.' ES&S, the nation's largest voting systems vendor, does not have a federally certified voting system with the latest, Windows 10 operating system on the market. Such a system was recently submitted for federal certification. Spokeswoman Katina Granger said in a statement that the company was pleased by the free security updates and 'will be communicating soon with our customers on the distribution of any updates.' ___ Follow Tami Abdollah at https://twitter.com/latams
  • The Federal Reserve will keep pumping cash into a vital but obscure corner of U.S. financial markets in coming weeks. The New York Federal Reserve Bank, which handles the central bank's interactions with financial markets, said Friday that it will offer daily repurchase, or 'repo,' operations of at least $75 billion through Oct. 10. The aim is to maintain the Fed's key policy rate within its target range. For the first time since the 2008 financial crisis, the Fed this week conducted a series of major repo operations, injecting $278 billion into the market to deal with a jump in short-term interest rates. Officials say this week's spike in rates is not a precursor of the type of underlying troubles that preceded the 2008 market meltdown. In addition to the daily overnight operations of $75 billion, the New York Fed said it would conduct longer 14-day repo operations of at least $30 billion on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of next week. The Fed said that it would be ready to conduct further operations as needed after Oct. 10 but the amount and timing of those auctions has not been determined. In the fourth operation on Friday, banks asked for $75.55 billion in reserves, only slightly higher than the $75 billion limit set by the Fed. The Fed began conducting these operations to calm money markets. Rates on short-term repo agreements had briefly spiked to nearly 10% earlier this week as financial firms scrambled to find short-term funding. The Fed seeks to manage its operations to keep the repo rate near the target it has set for its key policy rate, the federal funds rate, the interest that banks charge each other for overnight borrowing. The Fed announced on Wednesday that it was cutting the benchmark rate by a quarter-point to a new range of 1.75% to 2% as it seeks to cushion the U.S. economy from various threats, ranging from a slowing global economy to shocks from President Donald Trump's trade war with China. The repo market covers billions of dollars of daily operations in which one party lends out cash in exchange for a roughly equivalent value of securities, usually Treasury notes. The market allows companies that own lots of securities to get the cash they need at cheap rates. The borrower of the cash agrees to repurchase the securities it has loaned as collateral at a later date, often as soon as the next day. The turbulence this week has been attributed to various factors, including corporations needing to come up with cash to settle quarterly tax payments. Analysts do not believe the rate spike this week is similar to the troubles seen as the nation was heading into the 2008 financial crisis. They believe banks are much better capitalized now due to the reforms put in place after the crisis.