Originally Published: 9/30/2017
Tax Cuts: Republicans have started working on their promised tax “reform,” which is nothing more than tax cuts for the rich. Of course, in order to cut the taxes, they’ll also have to cut spending. And I’m betting that there will be cuts to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or maybe even another proposal for “repeal and replace.” So the next few months should be very interesting. Trump, along with the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Committee on Finance, released their plan for tax cuts in a document called “Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code.” It lists as its top goal “Tax relief for middle-class families.” However, it’s clear that the plan “is a potentially huge windfall for the wealthiest Americans. It would not directly benefit the bottom third of the population. As for the middle class, the benefits appear to be modest.” And, of course, the cuts will have to be offset by cuts in services. (NY Times) The Washington Post fact-checked all the statements being made to support the plan and gave Trumpers 4 Pinocchios. (Washington Post) Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) estimated that the cuts will total “a massive $6.7 to $8.3 trillion, $3 to $5 trillion of which may not be paid for by closing other tax loopholes and/or by limiting tax deductions.” ATF also estimated that “the resulting jump in the deficit threatens funding of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education, and other vital services.” Of course, Republicans are chanting that Reagan-era mantra that cutting taxes will stimulate the economy. Bruce Bartlett, who designed and promoted that mantra for President Reagan, wrote in an op-ed piece that it’s a myth. “In reality, there’s no evidence that a tax cut now would spur growth.” (Washington Post) Watch what Stephen Colbert had to say about it. (You Tube) Here’s what I’ve been able to glean so far.
Corporations: The corporate tax rate would be reduced from 35% to 20%. (Americans for Tax Fairness)
Business Income: “The plan will primarily benefit the small share of the population that owns the vast majority of corporate equity.” (NY Times) It would reduce the tax rate from 40% to 25% and business would immediately deduct, or expense, the full cost of capital investments in vehicles, equipment, structures, etc. (Americans for Tax Fairness)
Territorial Tax System: The plan establishes a Territorial Tax System “that would exempt American corporations from paying any U.S. income taxes on foreign profits. (Americans for Tax Fairness)
Estate Tax: It eliminates the estate tax, “which affects just a few thousand uber-wealthy families each year.” (NY Times) The NY Times analyzed the only tax record we have for Trump - his 2005 return. They found that by eliminating the estate tax his family will save about $1.1 billion.
AMT: It eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax, “a safety net designed to prevent tax avoidance.” (NY Times) The AMT is the only tax paid by Trump. In 2005 he paid about 24% of his $150 million income. (TWW, Tax Leak, 3/18/17) Without the AMT, he would have paid less than 4%. (Washington Post)
Wealthy-Class: The plan lowers the top tax rate on wealthy individuals from 39.6% to 35%. (Americans for Tax Fairness) If you remember, that .6% is an additional tax for Obamacare so this reduction will significantly impact the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Despite Trump’s statement that “the rich will not be gaining at all,” the plan “may contain more than $1 trillion in breaks for the highest earners and the wealthy.” (Bloomberg) According to the Tax Policy Center, the plan would mean a major windfall to the top 1%, with 80% of the tax benefits going to them.
Middle Class: Since there are no details, it’s not clear what the effect will be on middle-class families. “While some households would probably get tax cuts, others could end up paying more.” (NY Times) It reduces 6 tax brackets to just 2. (Americans for Tax Fairness) The standard deduction would be increased from $6,350 to $12,000 for an individual and from $12,700 to $24,000 for a married couple. But the deduction for state and local taxes would be removed, “which would disproportionately affect filers in states with higher taxes like New York, New Jersey, and California.” (NBC) The Tax Policy Center estimated there would be an average cut of $1,700 to households in 2027 but the results would be unevenly spread, with 1 in 4 paying more. Nearly 30% of taxpayers with incomes between $50,000 and $150,000 would see a tax increase.
Lower Class: Please note on the chart that taxes on the lowest class will go from 10% to 12%. (NY Times)
Itemized Deductions: These would be repealed other than charitable giving and mortgage interest. (Americans for Tax Fairness) Not the kind of deductions taken by lower-income filers.
Head of Household: The personal exemption and the head of household filing status would be repealed. (Americans for Tax Fairness)
NFL: Trump said that NFL owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem, “and he encouraged spectators to walk out of stadiums in protest.” (NY Times) Guess he doesn’t understand the First Amendment.
Emails: Jared Kushner “has used a private email account to conduct and discuss official White House business dozens of times,” his lawyer confirmed. (Washington Post) Then we found that at least 6 of Trump’s “closest advisers” occasionally used private email addresses to discuss White House matters. They are: Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Gary Cohn, Steve Miller, and Ivanka. (NY Times)
Scott Pruitt: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator is building a soundproof communication booth for privacy. The customized booth is so that Pruitt can “communicate privately.” The sales consultant for the company building the booth said: “Their main goal was they wanted essentially a secure phone booth that couldn’t be breached from a data point of view or from someone standing outside eavesdropping.” It costs $25,000. (Washington Post) I’ll make Pruitt a tin foil hat for just $5,000!
Tom Price: Trump is not happy with the Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary. Price has taken “numerous flights on government-funded private jets for work and personal trips.” (Washington Post) Price took a $25,000 charter flight from Dulles to Philadelphia “when a round-trip train ticket would have cost $72.” He also took a private jet to a resort in Georgia “where he owns land” and to Nashville, “where he lunched with his son.” He used military aircraft “for trips to Africa and Europe this spring, and to Asia in the summer, at a cost of more than $500,000 to taxpayers.” His wife accompanied him on the military flights while other members of his delegation flew commercially. “The overseas trips bring the total cost to taxpayers of Price’s travels to more than $1 million since May.” (Washington Post) Price apologized and said he’ll pay back almost $52,000. (Washington Post) But he resigned instead. (Washington Post) I guess we won’t get our $52,000 back now.
Ryan Zinke: The Interior Secretary is also taking fancy jets at the expense of taxpayers. This summer he chartered a plane from an oil-and-gas exploration company to fly from Las Vegas to Kalispell, Montana - near his home in Whitefish. It cost us $12,375. “Commercial airlines run daily flights between the 2 airports and charge as little as $300.” He also chartered flights to the Virgin Islands. (Washington Post)
Neil Gorsuch: The newest Supreme Court Justice “delivered a tribute to civility and free speech” to a conservative group at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. (Washington Post) Besides contributing to Trump’s income from the group being at his hotel, a Supreme Court Justice speaking to a partisan group is a conflict of interest.
Jeff Mateer: He’s Trump’s pick to the U.S. District Court in Texas. He “fought a local ordinance extending equal protections to members of the LGBT community and said the separation of church and state does not exist in the Constitution.” But this isn’t all. In 2 speeches in 2015 he said that transgender children are proof that “Satan’s plan is working” and that same-sex marriage is a harbinger for “disgusting” practices such a polygamy and bestiality. “He also appeared to advocate for gay conversation therapy.” (Washington Post)
Jon Huntsman: The Senate confirmed him as the U.S. ambassador to Russia. (Washington Post)
Unwarranted Searches: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has instituted a new rule that will go into effect next month. It includes “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results” in investigations into people. It will affect all immigrants, including naturalized citizens. According to an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), “There’s a growing trend” at DHS “to be snooping on the social media of immigrants and foreigners, and we think it’s an invasion of privacy and deters freedom of speech.” (Think Progress)
Cuba: After a series of mysterious illnesses at the U.S. embassy in Havana, affecting 21 people, Trump is pulling out more than half of the staff. (NY Times)
Germany: Angela Merkel won a 4th term as Chancellor. But “the far-right, anti-immigration Alternative For Germany (AfD) made an historic breakthrough, winning 13.5% of the vote and a projected 87 seats and becoming the first overtly nationalist party to sit in the Bundestag in 60 years.” (Guardian) If you remember, AfD received help in this election from the Kremlin. (TWW, Germany, 9/16/17) The NY Times has a piece on who the AfD is and what they want. It’s disturbing, to say the least.
North Korea: A poll by Economist/YouGov found that almost 50% believe Trump will attack North Korea. 45% believe Kim intends to attack the U.S. What is truly disturbing is: “Almost half of the respondents either strongly supported or somewhat supported the notion of the U.S. taking military action against North Korea.” (Roll Call)
Saudi Arabia: It announced that it will let women drive cars. (NY Times) How big of them.
Alabama: Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the state supreme court, won the Republican primary for Jeff Sessions’ seat. Moore is the judge who was removed from the state supreme court twice. (TWW, Alabama, 10/1/16) He “soundly” defeated Trump-supported Luther Strange. He’ll face Democrat Doug Jones in December. (NY Times)
Puerto Rico: I know. I know. It’s not a state. But it is a U.S. territory and its citizens are U.S. citizens. Hurricane Maria devastated the island. There is still no electricity in most areas (AP) and about 80% of agricultural crops have been wiped out. (NY Times) Governor Ricardo Rosselló said that the island was on the brink of a “humanitarian crisis” and stressed that it deserved the same treatment as Texas and Florida. (NY Times) Trump waived the Jones Act that, among other things, regulates shipping among U.S. ports and which officials said was hindering relief efforts. (NY Times) He waived it for Houston and Miami right off the bat but had to be pushed to do so for Puerto Rico. (New York Magazine) But he’s ordered the State Department to charge evacuees “full fare” to be evacuated and to hold their passports until payment is received. (Market Watch) Trump claims that disaster relief has been difficult because “Puerto Rico is an island, that its infrastructure was already in ‘very, very poor shape,’ and that the U.S. territory is saddled with ‘tremendous’ debt.” (Washington Post) He even cited the death toll as part of his “incredible” recovery success. (Washington Post) San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz criticized Trump for his remarks (NY Times) so Trump accused her of “poor leadership” and implied that the island, “which lacks electricity and has limited cellphone service, water, and fuel, was not doing enough to help itself.” (NY Times)
Texas: A 3-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans blocked U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s ruling (TWW, Texas, 9/2/17) to halt the law banning “sanctuary cities.” (Washington Post)
Wisconsin: A comprehensive study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison surveyed registered voters who didn’t cast a 2016 ballot in the state’s 2 biggest counties - Milwaukee and Dane. More than 1 out of 10 non-voters (11.2%) said they lacked acceptable voter ID and cited the law as a reason why they didn’t vote. Another 6.4% said the voter ID law was the “main reason” they didn’t vote. The author said that roughly 9,000 and 23,000 registered voters in the reliable Democratic counties were deterred from voting by the ID law. Extrapolating the findings statewide, the data suggest as many as 45,000 voters sat out the election. Trump won the state by 22,748 votes. (Mother Jones)
Budget: The Senate budget committee released its FFY 2018 Budget Resolution. It will reduce spending by $5.1 trillion - to offset the tax cuts.
Travel Ban: We’re learning more about the new travel ban that was unveiled last week. (TWW, Travel Ban, 9/23/17) “The new order is more far-reaching” than the original. Non-Muslim countries have been added to the list of banned countries which now are: Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Chad, and North Korea. Some people from Venezuela and Iraq will face “restrictions or heightened scrutiny.” (NY Times) Because of the new order, the U.S. Supreme Court has postponed a hearing on the challenge to the previous order. (Washington Post)
Facebook: A few weeks ago Facebook representatives testified that Facebook had sold ads to the Russians during the election season. (TWW, Facebook, 9/9/17) The ads have now been examined. Some promote black rights groups and others suggest “that these same groups pose a rising political threat.” The ads also “sought to sow discord among religious groups. Other ads highlighted support for Democrat Hillary Clinton among Muslim women.” According to the Washington Post, “These targeted messages, along with others that have surfaced in recent days, highlight the sophistication of an influence campaign slickly crafted to mimic and infiltrate U.S. political discourse while also seeking to heighten tensions between groups already wary of one another.”
Twitter: Russia relied heavily on Twitter to sway the 2016 election. Twitter has shut down 201 accounts “that were tied to the same Russian operatives who posted thousands of political ads on Facebook. (Washington Post) But the craziness continues. Fake Twitter accounts were used to inflame the NFL protests. And there’s evidence that Russia used Twitter more heavily than Facebook to influence the campaign. “In addition to Russia-linked Twitter accounts that posed as Americans, the platform was also used for large-scale automated messaging, using ‘bot’ accounts to spread false stories and promote news articles about emails from Democratic operatives that had been obtained by Russian hackers.” (NY Times) According to Mother Jones, the tweets were nothing but fake news and a study by Oxford’s Computational Propaganda Project found that it definitely had an effect on the election.
Sanctuary Cities: Attorney General Jeff Session ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to conduct raids on sanctuary cities. They arrested 498 people in the 4-day operation. (Vice)
Graham-Cassidy: Over the weekend Republicans revised their bill to give Alaska and Maine more funding. Alaska would get an extra 3% between 2020 and 2026 and Maine would get 43% more funding during that some period. The revision was designed to lure Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME) into voting for the bill. (Washington Post) But the AARP released a study finding that older people could pay as much as $16,174 a year for their insurance (The Hill) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its hurried report finding that the bill would reduce the budget deficit by at least $133 billion over the next decade, “mainly because . . . outlays from new block grants . . . would be smaller than the reduction in net federal subsidies for health insurance.” It didn’t convince Susan Collins. She announced her “firm opposition” to the plan. (NY Times) On Tuesday Senate Republicans announced they would not have a vote on the bill. (Roll Call) Think it’s dead? Don’t count on it. Republicans haven’t given up. (Politico)
Obamacare: The Washington Post did a nice rundown on the things the Trump administration is doing to reduce Affordable Care Act (ACA) enrollment. They’ve slashed funding by 41% for groups that help people through the enrollment process. The biggest cuts went to groups in the South and the Midwest. They cut funding for advertising by 90%. During the open enrollment period - November 1 to December 15 - the website will shut down for 12-hour periods on several Sundays. They’ve eliminated Spanish-language materials and Spanish-speaking people at enrollment events.
Alternative Energy: General Motors announced that its 4 plants in Ohio and its 3 plants in Indiana will be run 100% by green electricity by the end of 2018. (Cleveland Plain Dealer) GM will also power its Arlington, Texas plant entirely by wind, also by the end of 2018. (Yale Climate Connections) And Kimberly-Clark has purchased 78% of its electricity needs from wind farms in Oklahoma and Texas. (Tulsa World) A study from Apex and GreenBiz Group, found that corporations aren’t relying on renewables just to save money. It is a leading factor, but not the only one. Check out the chart. (Green Tech Media)
Plastic: A British-led expedition, which got to within 1,000 miles of the North Pole - “an area that was previously inaccessible to scientists because of sea ice” - found chunks of plastic. It’s everywhere. (Guardian)
Mandating Prices: Energy Secretary Rick Perry sent a proposal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) asking for new regulation that mandates higher prices for coal, nuclear, and hydroelectric power. He said they are threatened because other power sources (like solar and wind) are cheaper and they can’t compete. (The Hill) Yes, folks, a Republican who is against regulation and believes that competition in a free market will solve all ills now wants regulation because competition isn’t giving him what he wants. The hypocrisy is just too much.
Dicamba: The concern over this pesticide (TWW, Dicamba, 9/2/17) appears to be growing. The Arkansas Plant Board approved new regulations prohibiting its use from April 16th through October 31, 2018 “after receiving nearly 1,000 complaints” about its misuse. Monsanto is considering suing them. (EcoWatch) If it’s eventually banned nationwide, what will this mean for Monsanto’s genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton? (TWW, GMOs, 1/17/15)