What Trump and His GOP Did While We Ate Our Thanksgiving Turkey | Oligarchy on Blog#42

Politico did not publish its weekly “5 Things Trump did…” column this week. Here is a collection of curated items that caught my eye this week, instead.

How tax reform could affect your bottom line

How the bill will affect your pocketbook will depend on many factors. And the impact could change over time, since the individual tax code provisions expire at the end of 2025. But enter your income below for a prediction about how you could be affected:

Enter your income for a prediction about how you could be affected by the bill.

Click here to be taken to the Washington Post tax calculator

What freelancers need to know about the new tax bills

By Nathan Bransford

Nov 21, 2017

“Because the Senate is considering cutting the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20% but only giving pass-through owners a 17.5% tax deduction, many critics of the Senate proposal, including Senator Johnson, believe small business owners could be at an even greater disadvantage competing against corporations.

Senator Johnson has suggested that either all businesses should be treated as pass-throughs or pass-through businesses should receive further tax cuts, but both changes could have big impacts on the bills and the resulting budget deficit, and would have an uncertain prospect of passage.

The bill that passed in the House lowers pass-through business taxes via a more complicated formula. Some believe the lower pass-through taxes in the House bill could help the self-employed, but it excludes service companies like lawyers and consultants from benefitting from the lower pass-through rates.

The House bill also includes a “mom and pop” provision that phases in a 9% tax rate on the first $75,000 in income for business owners making $150,000 or less, and leaves in place self-employed deductions for insurance premiums.”

Read the rest at Freelancer’s Union

The Easter eggs hidden in the new Senate tax bill

Congress isn’t supposed to dole out pork anymore, but there are still plenty of goodies tucked away in the latest version of tax reform.

“The headline changes in the new Senate tax bill released late Tuesday night were a bigger child tax credit and the sunset of all individual tax cuts after 2025—but behind those, the new version of the bill includes dozens of carveouts and special provisions that will arrive like a gift for some industries and taxpayers.

Thanks in part to the complexity of the tax code, and in part to Congress’s need to stuff lots of priorities into any law likely to pass, the bill contains measures that touch on almost every part of U.S. society. Congress hasn’t legally been able to dole out pork since earmarks were banned in 2011, but there are other ways to pack goodies into a law. The newest draft of the Senate bill includes everything from a new tax credit for paid family leave to a tax break for citrus growers to a big reform of craft beer regulations—even a gift to the three largest U.S. airlines in their ongoing fight against the Gulf airlines.

Here’s a look at the miscellaneous tax provisions added to the Senate bill:

The Sinai Peninsula 
Half a page of the tax bill is dedicated to “any member of the Armed Forces of the United States” in the Sinai Peninsula that is “subject to hostile fire or imminent danger, ” making them eligible for a major tax break enjoyed by military personnel serving in a combat zone.

What’s going on? This is actually part of a long-running argument within the Pentagon about whether Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula should be considered a war zone.For the past 35 years, hundreds of U.S. peacekeepers have been stationed on the Sinai Peninsula to guard against the possibility hostilities could reignite between Egypt and Israel. The mission has been generally peaceful, but in recent years the 700 U.S. soldiers stationed there have faced a new threat from terrorist groups.”

Read the rest of Danny Vinik’s column on Politico

The Tax Bill’s Automatic Spending Cuts

The time to hack-proof the 2018 election is expiring — and Congress is way behind

‘Not a lot of time, no question,’ one senator says.

“Lawmakers are scrambling to push something — anything — through Congress that would help secure the nation’s voting systems ahead of the 2018 elections.

But it might already be too late for some critical targets. By this point during the 2016 election cycle, Russian hackers had already been in the Democratic National Committee’s networks for at least three months.

Members of both parties insist they can get something done before Election Day 2018, but concede that the window is rapidly closing. Voters in Texas and Illinois will take to the polls in the country’s first primaries in just over three months — a narrow timeline for implementing software patches, let alone finding the funds to overhaul creaky IT systems, swap out aging voting machines or implement state-of-the-art digital audits.

“Not a lot of time, no question,” Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who is leading an investigation of Russia’s election-year meddling, told POLITICO.

It’s not for a lack of ideas. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have proposed a raft of legislative solutions aimed at inoculating future U.S. elections from foreign meddling. But the efforts have been stalled amid partisan fighting, ideological disagreements over who should fund election security and — perhaps most prominently — a packed congressional calendar that has prioritized repealing Obamacare and pushing through a tax overhaul.”

Read the rest at Politico


What will become of welfare under Trump?

 AP November 25, 2017, 2:23 PM

“Overhauling welfare was one of the defining goals of Bill Clinton’s presidency, starting with a campaign promise to “end welfare as we know it,” continuing with a bitter policy fight and producing change that remains hotly debated 20 years later.

Now, President Donald Trump wants to put his stamp on the welfare system, apparently in favor of a more restrictive policy. He says “people are taking advantage of the system.”

Mr. Trump, who has been signaling interest in the issue for some time, said this past week that he wants to tackle the issue after the tax overhaul he is seeking by the end of the year. He said changes were “desperately needed in our country” and that his administration would soon offer plans.

For now, the president has not offered details. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said more specifics were likely early next year. But the groundwork has already begun at the White House and Mr. Trump has made his interest known to Republican lawmakers.

Paul Winfree, director of budget policy and deputy director of Trump’s Domestic Policy Council, told a recent gathering at the conservative Heritage Foundation that he and another staffer had been charged with “working on a major welfare reform proposal.” He said they have drafted an executive order on the topic that would outline administration principles and direct agencies to come up with recommendations.”

Read the rest on CBS News


Justices to weigh cellphone privacy in landmark case


“The privacy of emails, photos stored in the cloud, even heart rate history from a smartwatch could be at stake, according to civil libertarians, as the Supreme Court takes up a potential blockbuster case after Thanksgiving.

When they return to the bench after the holiday, the justices will weigh whether the history of cellphone locations stored by a phone service provider is searchable without a warrant.

The case, Carpenter v. U.S., centers on Timothy Carpenter, who argues the government violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure when it obtained his cellphone location records from MetroPCS and Sprint without a warrant. Authorities then used that data as trial evidence to convict him of a string of robberies at Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores in Michigan and Ohio from December 2010 to March 2011.

The government argues that it was well within its rights under the Stored Communications Act of 1986 to get a court order for the records. The law allows this type of data to be searched if the government can show reasonable grounds to believe it will be relevant to a criminal investigation.

To obtain a warrant, law enforcement officers, however, must show there is probable cause.”

Read the rest at The Hill

If cops can get phone data without a warrant, it could be a nightmare for journalists — and sources

by Margaret Sullivan

November 26

“That cellphone in your pocket?

Nathan Freed Wessler sees it as a dangerous time machine as well as a communication device.

After all, says the ACLU attorney, the location data your phone gathers all day, every day, makes it possible for an interested party — the police, let’s say — to look back at a period of time and reconstruct precisely where you were. And from that to deduce who you were talking to and why.

In other words, imagine if the Department of Justice could have traced a Washington Post reporter to that Virginia garage where he met Deep Throat.

Such data may offer invaluable help in prosecuting a criminal. But if it’s available on demand, without a warrant, it could be a nightmare for journalists who are trying to protect their sources. And for their news organizations.”

Read the rest of Margaret Sullivan’s column at the Washington Post

CNN’s Cuomo rips Breitbart editor for using Ringo Starr song to defend Moore

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo on Monday clashed with a Breitbart editor who used a Ringo Starr song to defend Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore’s alleged sexual misconduct toward teenaged women.


“During an appearance on CNN, Breitbart editor Joel Pollack cited Ringo Starr’s hit song “You’re Sixteen, You’re Beautiful and You’re Mine” in defense of Roy Moore’s alleged sexual assault of underage girls, saying “He was 30-something at the time, singing about a 16-year-old. You want to take away Ringo Starr’s achievement?””

Read the rest at The Hill

Anita Hill: Biden did “opposite” of what women needed in 1991

“A new look at Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony against now-Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas puts a harsh spotlight on Joe Biden’s handling of her allegations of sexual harassment. Biden was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, and the Washington Post magazine reports that Hill believes Biden hasn’t taken responsibility for how unfairly she was treated.

Why it matters: Here’s what Hill told the Post: “[W]omen were looking to the Senate Judiciary Committee and his leadership to really open the way to have these kinds of hearings. They should have been using best practices to show leadership on this issue on behalf of women’s equality. And they did just the opposite.”

The bottom line: Biden apologized to Hill at a Glamour magazine event earlier this month, saying he was “so sorry” for what Hill went through. Hill said she still doesn’t think his comment “takes ownership of his role in what happened,” and said it was a qualified apology: “That’s sort of an ‘I’m sorry if you were offended.’“”

Read the rest on Axios

bell hooks on the Roots of Male Violence Against Women

‘In the wake of the Weinstein scandal, an ever-widening stream of accusations against powerful men has prompted a considerable amount of soul-searching. On Twitter and elsewhere, one book that has been mentioned is bell hooks’s The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love, from 2004. The book was somewhat controversial among feminists because, rather than excoriating the worst behavior of men, hooks analyzes masculinity as a kind of regime that oppresses everybody, including men. She sees child abuse, sexual abuse, and shaming as rampant conditions that predispose psychologically damaged boys to violence. hooks tells David Remnick that if we don’t try to understand the male psyche we cannot solve the problem.’ — The New Yorker Radio Hour

Curated from Professor Mark Anthony Neal’s New Black Man (In Exile)


Week 27: Did Flynn Flip and Did Trump Flip Out?

When defense lawyers stop talking to each other, one side often has reason to worry a deal has been cut.

“The Flynn and Mueller conversation means that the Flynn indictment, which we expected to land in our news feeds with the sound and light of fireworks, will be replaced with a tamer Flynn plea agreement that tosses bolts at Trump. And this may well provide us explanations for Trump’s many cagey, self-contradictory moves over the past months. If it’s true that Trump has thrown temper tantrums when the scandal news has turned against him, we can assume he screeched like a beast when he heard the Flynn news on Thanksgiving. All we know for sure is that he went golfing the next day with Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson.

The McClatchy D.C. bureau lit a fire under Paul Manafort this week with a scorcher of a story that had him piling up frequent flyer miles to Moscow by the bushel while working for pals of Vladimir Putin. Over the course of a decade, he took at least 18 trips to the city while consulting for Russian and pro-Kremlin Ukraine customers. Was Manafort just making money, or were the Russians turning him into an asset who could be trusted to do their bidding, the piece asks. A Manafort spokesman categorically denies that he ever worked for the Russian government. Did he meet with Russian government officials while in Moscow? The same spokesman declined to answer.

Everybody’s favorite Trump Tower scandal character, go-between Rob Goldstone, who had largely been missing in action, made a feature-length appearance in the pages of London’s Sunday Times Magazine this week. There, the entertainment publicist spun a dubious tale about the June 2016 meeting he arranged in the tower between Natalia Veselnitskaya’s Russian squad and Donald Trump Jr., Manafort and Jared Kushner.

“If I’m guilty of anything, and I hate the word guilty, it’s hyping the message and going the extra mile for my clients,” Goldstone said. “Using hot-button language to puff up the information I had been given. I didn’t make up the details, I just made them sound more interesting.”

Call this the “Everyone knows that publicists are liars” defense. Well, Rob, we can’t wait until Mueller has the opportunity to read aloud to you the emails you sent to Donald Jr. to set up the meeting. Remember when you offered “the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia [that] would be very useful to your father”? Or when you typed, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump—helped along by Aras and Emin [Agalarov].””

Read the rest of Jack Shafer’s column on Politico

Peter Thiel May Be Looking To Buy Gawker.com

Ryan Mac    November 22, 2017

“Lawyers for the Silicon Valley billionaire filed a motion in court on Wednesday to challenge a provision that prevented him from buying the assets of the now defunct Gawker.com. That move lays the groundwork for a possible bid for the website and its archive.

Unable to pay the $140 million verdict awarded to Hogan by a Florida jury, Gawker Media filed for bankruptcy and sold most of its sites to Univision last year. Since then, Gawker’s estate administrator and lawyers have been in and out of federal bankruptcy court in New York, where they’ve ironed out provisions from the sale of Gawker’s assets and sought to open legal discovery into Thiel for his role in aiding Hogan’s lawsuit. The Wall Street Journal reported that Holden has been exploring the sale of Gawker.com since July, and that he recently marketed the site’s potential legal claims against Thiel as part of its appeal.

The marketing of those claims is at the center of Thiel’s complaint, in which his lawyers argue that Holden should not be able to conduct a sale of those claims and ask that the court drop a motion that allows for discovery to move forward. Thiel’s representatives also said that they contacted those administrating the sale of Gawker.com last month “to express Mr. Thiel’s interest in participating in the sale process,” but that they had been rebuffed and then ignored.

“By wrongly excluding Mr. Thiel, the most able and logical purchaser, from the sale process on specious grounds … the Plan Administrator will only depress the value to be achieved in any sale,” the billionaire’s lawyers argue.

While rumors had been floating in media circles that Thiel could hypothetically buy Gawker.com and remove its contents from the web, the billionaire has never publicly addressed whether he was interested in the site’s assets. Prior to Gawker Media’s bankruptcy and its loss in the Hogan trial, a banker, who claimed to have the back of at least one Silicon Valley power player, had called former Gawker Media employees around January 2016 to discuss the possible buyout of the company, according to Forbes.”

Read the rest at Buzzfeed

The Hidden History of Trump’s First Trip to Moscow

In 1987, a young real estate developer traveled to the Soviet Union. The KGB almost certainly made the trip happen.

“It was 1984 and General Vladimir Alexandrovich Kryuchkov had a problem. The general occupied one of the KGB’s most exalted posts. He was head of the First Chief Directorate, the prestigious KGB arm responsible for gathering foreign intelligence.

Kryuchkov had begun his career with five years at the Soviet mission in Budapest under Ambassador Yuri Andropov. In 1967 Andropov became KGB chairman. Kryuchkov went to Moscow, took up a number of sensitive posts, and established a reputation as a devoted and hardworking officer. By 1984, Kryuchkov’s directorate in Moscow was bigger than ever before—12,000 officers, up from about 3,000 in the 1960s. His headquarters at Yasenevo, on the wooded southern outskirts of the city, was expanding: Workmen were busy constructing a 22-story annex and a new 11-story building.

In politics, change was in the air. Soon a new man would arrive in the Kremlin, Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev’s policy of detente with the West—a refreshing contrast to the global confrontation of previous general secretaries—meant the directorate’s work abroad was more important than ever.

Kryuchkov faced several challenges. First, a hawkish president, Ronald Reagan, was in power in Washington. The KGB regarded his two predecessors, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, as weak. By contrast Reagan was seen as a potent adversary. The directorate was increasingly preoccupied with what it believed—wrongly—was an American plot to conduct a preemptive nuclear strike against the USSR.

It was around this time that Donald Trump appears to have attracted the attention of Soviet intelligence. How that happened, and where that relationship began, is an answer hidden somewhere in the KGB’s secret archives. Assuming, that is, that the documents still exist.”

Read the rest of this article on Politico


November 28 2017

SHORTLY BEFORE Donald Trump’s inauguration, Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater and head of Frontier Services Group, traveled to the Seychelles, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, and met with a Russian official close to President Vladimir Putin. According to the Washington Post, the meeting between the Russian and Prince, who presented himself as an unofficial envoy of Trump, took place “around January 11” and was brokered by Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, to establish a backchannel between the president-elect and Putin.

The identity of the Russian individual was not disclosed, but on January 11, a Turkish-owned Bombardier Global 5000 charter plane flew Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, to the Seychelles, flight records obtained by The Intercept show. Dmitriev’s plane was an unscheduled charter flight and flew to the island with two other Russian individuals, both women. The RDIF is a $10 billion sovereign wealth fund created by the Russian government in 2011.

On August 7, Prince told CNN that he was in the Seychelles “on business” in January to meet with Emirati officials and met “some fund manager — I can’t even remember his name.” Prince said the meeting “probably lasted about as long as one beer.”

Florida lawmaker’s former company used Manafort to pitch Russian-developed technology to U.S. government

Paul Manafort’s Russian ties have cast a broad shadow over a Trump administration under investigation, but the longtime Republican powerbroker also has a little-known connection to a Florida politician that also runs, in part, through Russia.

Florida House freshman Don Hahnfeldt ran a company in the early 2000s that hired Manafort — President Donald Trump’s former campaign chief who was recently indicted — to try to sell Russian-developed nuclear containment foam to the U.S. Energy Department. At one point, a Manafort-directed company bought more than 2 million shares of company stock.

The story of the now-defunct, Virginia-based EuroTech Ltd. doesn’t just involve Russia — it’s also ingrained with other obscure plot elements worthy of the silver screen, including officials with known ties to the mafia and an untraceable cash flow from Cayman Island investors, according to thousands of pages of regulatory filings.

The documents underscore the reach of Manafort’s business and lobbying network — even into the orbit of a low-profile Florida state lawmaker, who was then in private industry. None of the EuroTech connections link to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Read the rest of this article on Politico

What The Industry Knew About Sugar’s Health Effects, But Didn’t Tell Us

Heard on All Things Considered

“Back in the 1960s, the fact that our diets influence the risk of heart disease was still a new idea. And there was a debate about the role of fats and the role of sugar.

The sugar industry got involved in efforts to influence this debate. “What the sugar industry successively did,” argues Stanton Glantz of the University of California, San Francisco, “is they shifted all of the blame onto fats.”

The industry’s strategies were sophisticated, Glantz says, and are similar to those of the tobacco industry. For instance, in 1965 an industry group, the Sugar Research Foundation, secretly funded a scientific review that downplayed the evidence that linked sugar consumption to blood fat levels. The review was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Now, what’s come to light in an investigation published Tuesday in the journal PLOS Biology is that the industry funded its own research project, but never disclosed the findings.”

Read the rest on NPR

Bipartisan group of senators seek to block Trump cuts to drug discount program

Six senators, including three Republicans, are asking GOP leadership to block a Trump administration rule that slashes funding for a federal drug discount program.

The program, called 340B, requires drug companies give discounts to health-care organizations that serve high volumes of low-income patients.

But a new rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which takes effect Jan. 1, cuts Medicare payments to hospitals enrolled in the program by $1.6 billion.

The senators are urging the cuts to be reversed in the year-end spending deal.

Read the rest at The Hill

John Boehner Unchained

The former House speaker feels liberated—but he’s also seething about what happened to his party.

“Boehner is a fascinating and paradoxical figure in his own right. He was the brilliant salesman who couldn’t get his own members to buy. The back-slapping creature of K Street who never took a single earmark. The gruff chain-smoker who weeps at the mere mention of schoolchildren. The Midwestern everyman who won’t be seen in public without a clean shave and an ironed shirt. The bartender’s son who became speaker of the House.

But the story of Boehner’s 25 years in Washington is also the story of the Republican Party, the Congress and American politics in the post-Ronald Reagan era: an account of corruption and crusading, enormous promises and underwhelming results, growing ideological polarization and declining faith in government. The same centrifugal forces that made Boehner’s job impossible have bedeviled his successor, Ryan, and kept the GOP majorities in Congress from passing any landmark legislation in 2017. Now, as the revolutionary fervor that swept Boehner into the speakership degenerates into a fratricidal conflict centered around Trump, the former speaker’s frontline view of the Republican civil war is essential to understanding what went wrong.”

Read the entire interview on Politico

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