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Originally Published: 11/11/2017

Paradise Papers:  A trove of 13.4 million documents was obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the same newspaper that obtained the Panama Papers last year. (TWW, Tax Evasion, 6/11/16) [NOTE: In the Panama Papers, the tactics used were illegal. The shenanigans in the Paradise Papers are, unfortunately, legal.] The Papers were made public last week by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a network of more than 380 journalists who have been putting the pieces of this massive data leak together. The documents are from Appleby, an international law firm based in Bermuda, and “show how deeply the offshore financial system is entangled with the overlapping worlds of political players, private wealth, and corporate giants, including Apple, Nike, Uber, and other global companies that avoid taxes through increasingly imaginative bookkeeping maneuvers.” [Emphasis added.] The NY Times has a great piece on how it’s done. The leak highlighted the large number of tax loopholes that allow the richest people to avoid paying taxes. (Guardian) Queen Elizabeth II, Madonna, and Bono are among the many high-net-worth individuals whose investments were revealed. Even American universities are involved. (NY Times) If you’re wondering why you should care, consider this: The wealthy can afford to find ways to avoid taxes unavailable to the rest of us, widening the wealth gap. (Guardian) The Guardian has a short video on what’s going on. Here are some of the most interesting findings.

 

Trump’s Inner Circle:  “Trump is surrounded by wealthy individuals who have legally either sheltered their own investments or presided over policies to keep company profits or clients’ funds out of reach in tax havens.” Named in the papers are: Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; Randal Quarles, Federal Reserve member and vice chair for bank supervision; Russian ambassador John Huntsman; Indian ambassador Kenneth Juster; friend Carl Icahn; chair of Trump’s inaugural committee Tom Barrack; Securities and Exchange Committee chair Jay Clayton; and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. (Guardian)

 

Wilbur Ross:  The Paradise Papers exposed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s ties to shipping firm Navigator Holdings, a company “he once controlled” that has “significant business ties to a Russian oligarch subject to American sanctions and President Vladimir V. Putin’s son-in-law.” Navigator Holdings “earns million of dollars a year transporting gas for one of its top clients, a giant Russian energy company called Sibur.” (NY Times) Ross announced that he’ll “probably” not keep his holdings in Navigator. (Reuters)

 

Robert Mercer:  The Paradise Papers revealed how the billionaire Mercer family, which has bankrolled Steve Bannon, built their $60 million war chest for conservative causes “inside their family foundation by using an offshore investment vehicle to avoid U.S. tax.” Mercer appears “as a director of 8 Bermuda companies,” some of which “appear to have been used to legally avoid a little-known U.S. tax of up to 39% on tens of millions of dollars in investment profits amassed by the Mercer family’s foundation.” (Guardian)

 

Twitter and Facebook:  2 Russian state institutions “with close ties to Vladimir Putin” funded “substantial investments” in Twitter and Facebook “through a business associate of Jared Kushner.” (Guardian)

 

Manafort & Gates:  U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson imposed a gag order in the case against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. (TWW, Manafort & Gates, 11/4/17) The order includes all potential witnesses. (Washington Post)

 

Carl Icahn:  The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York has issued subpoenas looking for information on Icahn’s efforts “to change biofuel policy while he served as an adviser to President Donald Trump.” (Bloomberg)

 

Carter Page:  Trump’s foreign policy adviser met behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee, which released the transcript of the 7-hour session. In this interview he contradicted his previous public statements that he never met with Russian government officials during his trip to Moscow during the Trump presidential campaign. Also an email came to light which Page sent to fellow Trump aides during his trip to Moscow describing “a private conversation” with a senior Russian official “who spoke favorably of the Republican candidate.” Page also wrote that he had been provided “incredible insights and outreach” by Russian lawmakers and “senior members” of Putin’s administration. (Washington Post) He also disclosed that at least 4 members of the campaign knew about his trip: Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s first campaign manager; Jeff Sessions, a senior campaign official at the time; Hope Hicks, a campaign spokesperson who now serves as the White House communications director; and J.D. Gordon, a foreign policy adviser. Page also “had difficulty recalling why he went to Budapest” for meetings with Hungarian government officials and could not recall with whom he met. (NY Times)

 

Brett Talley:  The Senate approved Trump’s nominee for a federal judgeship in Alabama. He’s 36 years old, just been a lawyer for 3 years, has never tried a case, and was unanimously rated as “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. His qualification to be judge? He “displayed a degree of partisanship unusual for a judicial nominee, denouncing ‘Hillary Rotten Clinton’ and pledging support for the National Rifle Association.” (LA Times)

 

Robert Phalen:  He’s one of the 17 new appointees to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Scientific Advisory Board. Phalen is an air pollution researcher at University of California-Irvine. In 2012 he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science that “modern air” is “a little too clean for optimum health.” He opined that “children need to breathe irritants so that their bodies learn how to ward them off.” (Newsweek)

 

Steven Engel:  He was confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel. (Justice DepartmentHis nomination was opposed by Human Rights Watch who wrote a letter about Engel’s involvement in allowing torture under Dubya.

 

Eric Dreiband:  He’s a lawyer with Jones Day and is Trump’s pick for the head up the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. His speciality is defending companies accused of discrimination. (Mother Jones)

 

Kathleen Hartnett White:  She’s Trump’s choice to lead the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality. At her confirmation hearing she told the senators: “I’m not a scientist, but in my personal capacity, I have many questions that remain unanswered by current climate policy. I think we indeed need to have more precise explanations of the human role and the natural role.” She acknowledged that there was probably some human contribution, “the extent to which I think is very uncertain.” (Washington Post)

 

Lock-Up:  The U.S. military has kept an American citizen in a secret jail in Iraq for 2 months, “denying him access to a lawyer and even refusing to release his name. The Trump administration is calling the citizen an ‘enemy combatant,’ claiming he was fighting for ISIS in Syria, but it has not presented any evidence to back up its allegations.” (ACLU)

 

Cuba:  The Trump administration announced new restrictions against Cuba, “tightening sanctions as part of [Trump’s] pledge to roll back his Democratic predecessor’s move toward warmer ties with Havana.” They will “expand the list of Cuban government officials barred from transactions as well as set policy to deny exports to prohibited Cuban entities.” (Reuters) Access to hotels, stores, and other businesses tied to the Cuban military are restricted. Here’s a list of the restrictions. (State Department)

 

Saudi Arabia:  It’s in the middle of its most sweeping transformation in 80 years as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman moves to consolidate his power, ordering the arrests of 4 ministers and 11 princes, one of whom is the billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. (NY Times) He also corralled the power of the religious establishment “as part of his drive to impose his control on the kingdom and press for a more open brand of Islam. (NY Times)

 

California:  Lisa Middleton became the first transgender person elected to a non-judicial office, winning a seat on the Palm Springs City Council. (Los Angeles Blade)

 

Colorado:  Eagle and Boulder counties passed ballot measures to exempt themselves from a state law prohibiting city-run Internet services. This brings the total to 31 - nearly half - of the state’s counties that have rejected the state law. (Motherboard)

 

Connecticut:  Raven Matherne became the first openly transgender lawmaker in Stamford. (Stamford Advocate)

 

Georgia:  It elected blacks Jonathan McCollar as mayor of Statesboro, Booker Gainor as mayor of Cairo, and Mary Parham-Copelan as mayor of Milledgeville. (Washington Post) Stephe Koontz, a transgender woman, won her race for the Doraville city council. (Project Q)

 

Maine:  It became the first state to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) provision with a ballot initiative and it passed by almost 20 percentage points. (Washington Post)

 

Massachusetts:  Boston mayor Martin Walsh won re-election. (NY Times) Yvonne Spicer will be the first black woman in history to be Framingham’s mayor. (Washington Post)

 

Michigan:  Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan won re-election. And Flint mayor Karen Weaver survived a recall attempt. (NY Times)

 

Minnesota:  Andrea Jenkins (MPR News) and Phillipe Cunningham (PBS), both black and transgender, won seats on the Minneapolis City Council. Melvin Carter was elected the first black mayor of St. Paul. (Washington Post)

 

Montana:  Wilmot Collins, a Liberian refugee, was elected the first black mayor of Helena. (Guardian)

 

New Hampshire:  Gerri Cannon has won her spot on the Somersworth school board, the first transgender member. (Fosters)

 

New Jersey:  Philip Murphy (D), a former Goldman Sachs executive, won the governorship, closing out the 8 years of Chris Christie (R) as governor. “The party also cemented its 12-year control of both houses of the state legislature, putting Democrats back in control of the entire state.” (Washington Post) And Ravinder Bhalla became the first Sikh to be mayor of Hoboken. (CBS)

 

New York:  New York City’s Mayor Bill De Blasio (D) won a second term. (NY Times)

 

North Carolina:  Vi Lyles, a Charlotte councilwoman, was elected mayor. She is the first black woman to win the office. (NY Times)

 

Ohio:  Voters defeated a measure that would have limited the price of prescription drugs purchased by the state to no more than what the federal Veterans Affairs Departments pays for them - about 24% below typical prices. Pharmaceutical companies spent more than $49 million to defeat the measure. (NY Times)

 

Pennsylvania:  Tyler Titus became the first openly transgender person ever elected in the state by winning a seat on the Erie School Board. (Washington Post)

 

South Carolina:  Brendon Barber was elected the first black mayor of Georgetown. (Washington Post)

 

Utah:  John Curtis (R) won the U.S. House seat vacated by Jason Chaffetz (R). (Washington Post)

 

Virginia:  Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) beat Ed Gillespie (R) for the governorship by almost 9 percentage points. (NY Times). Danica Roem (D) defeated Robert Marshall, Virginia’s “most socially conservative state lawmaker” for his seat in the House of Delegates, making her the first openly transgender elected official in the state. Marshall called himself the “chief homophobe” and was the architect of the “bathroom bill.” (Washington Post) Christ Hurst (D) defeated the National Rifle Association’s incumbent candidate in the House of Delegates. (Guardian) Lee Carter (D) beat incumbent Jackson Miller. (Richmond Times-Dispatch) And Democrats Elizabeth Guzman (D) and Hala Ayala (D) were the first Latinas to be elected to the Virginia House and Kathy Tran (D) was the first Asian to be elected. (Washington Post) In all, Democrats picked up 3 open seats and knocked off at least 13 Republican incumbents “to draw even in power in the House, pending recounts that could still swing in either direction.” (Richmond Times-Dispatch) I wonder if Virginia’s election supervisors’ order directing the counties to “ditch” touchscreen voting machines had anything to do with the elections. (Politico)

 

Washington:  Manka Dhingra (D) was elected to the state Senate on an environmental platform, turning complete control of the state government over to Democrats. (Think Progress) And Jenny Durkan was was elected Seattle’s mayor, the first woman mayor in 90 years. (Seattle Times)

 

New York:  New York City’s Board of Elections admitted it “broke the law” when it purged more than 200,000 voters from the city rolls. Common Cause filed suit and they’re now working on a settlement. (NY Daily News)

 

Puerto Rico:  There’s another shady deal other than the $300 million Whitefish one. (TWW, Puerto Rico, 11/4/17) It’s a $200 million contract with Cobra Acquisitions, a subsidiary of Mammoth Energy Services, another company that didn’t exist until just recently. It’s a subsidiary of an Oklahoma-based fossil fuel company. Cobra’s deal with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) “involved heavy input from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) . . . which was ‘in the room’ and there ‘every step of the way’ as it was being meted out so as to be in line with the agency’s reimbursement requirements.” Apparently Puerto Rico’s goal for less dependency on imported fuels is not going to come to pass. (The Intercept)

 

House Tax Bill:  The markup of the bill began this week in the House Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Mike Thompson (D, CA) got the show rolling by slamming the provision that ends tax write-offs for property that is damaged by fire. “He pointed out that victims of recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and other states would be grandfathered in and be able to deduct some of their uninsured property losses.” (Roll Call) They extended the complete phase-out of the estate tax to 2025. (NY Times) The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its scoring of the bill. They calculate that it will add $1.7 trillion to the national debt.

 

Senate Tax Bill:  The Senate’s tax plan is different from the House’s. They plan to propose delaying the corporate tax reduction until 2019 and not including a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate. (The Hill) The 1-year delay would lower the cost by about $100 billion, “giving negotiators more revenue for other changes.” (Washington Post) It preserves the deductions for mortgage interest and medical expenses and maintains the bottom tax rate of 10% for lower earners. “But it would also jettison the state and local tax deduction entirely.” (NY Times) It sticks with 7 tax brackets, rather than the House’s 4. It keeps the tax credit for adoptions and for graduate students. It also reduces the estate tax but, unlike the House, it never gets phased out. (NY Times)

 

Child Tax Credit:  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) analyzed the tax bill’s effect on children. The bill increases the maximum Child Tax Credit (CTC) from the current $1,000 to $1,600 per child, “but only some families would benefit.” For parents who work for very low pay, their children are excluded, eliminating 10 million children. “Another 13 million children in working families would receive less than the full $600-per-child increase in the credit (in most cases, much less). Altogether, 1 in 3 children in working families would either be excluded entirely or only partially benefit from the CTC increase.”

 

Rise of Nazism:  In 1939 20,000 Americans rallied in New York’s Madison Square Garden to celebrate the rise of Nazism. A Night at the Garden is a 7 minute film by Marshall Curry on the rally which uses archival fragments recorded that night. It’s absolutely chilling and points out how quickly and how far seemingly decent people can fall onto the dark side.

 

Deportations:  As I reported last week (TWW, Deportations, 11/4/17) the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has given 2,500 Nicaraguans with provisional residency 14 months to leave the country. It will “not renew the Temporary Protected States (TPS) designation that has allowed them to remain in the country for nearly 2 decades.” However, they are deferring 57,000 Hondurans saying they “needed more time to consider their fate.” No decision has yet been made regarding the 200,000 Salvadorans and 50,000 Haitians. (Washington Post) The Washington Post reported that Elaine Duke, DHS Secretary, had been pressured by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and White House Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert to expel them all. Duke refused to reverse her position and “was angered by what she felt was a politically driven intrusion.”

 

Net Neutrality:  Comcast senior VP Frank Buono met with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Ajit Pai’s staff to ask the FCC to prohibit states from enforcing the current net neutrality rules. Buono is worried that the states might enact their own laws to prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from blocking, throttling, or discriminating against online content. (ARS Technica)

 

Wealth or Greed?:  A new report by Billionaire Bonanza 2017 explores the speed with which the U.S. is becoming “a hereditary aristocracy of wealth and power.” The 3 richest Americans - Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett - own more wealth than the bottom 50%. The top 25 billionaires together (see complete list in the report) hold $1 trillion in wealth. Billionaires who make up the full Forbes 400 list now own more wealth than the bottom 64% of the U.S. population. However, 1 in 5 households have zero or negative net worth. “Over recent decades, an incredibly disproportionate share of America’s income and wealth gains has flowed to the top of our economic spectrum.”

 

Sexual Harassment:  In light of all the allegations of sexual harassment and/or assault, the Senate has decided to mandate sexual harassment training for its members and their staff. (Roll Call)

 

Medicaid:  Seema Verma, head of the Health and Human Services Department’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS) announced that they will give states the authority to require enrollees in their Medicaid programs to work. The Obama administration opposed such a policy. (Washington Post)

 

Paris Agreement:  The Paris Agreement was signed 2 years ago. Climate Action Tracker analyzed the data to see how well the world is doing on its promises. The NY Times used the data to put up several wonderful moving graphs showing how the world is doing - with separate graphs for the U.S., the EU, China, and India. The report points out that no major industrialized country “is currently on track to fulfill its pledge. . . Worse, even if governments do take further steps to meet their individual pledges, the world will still be on pace to warm well in excess of 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the threshold that world leaders vowed to avoid in Paris because they deemed it unacceptably risky.” By the way, Syria is signing on to the Agreement. Nicaragua decided to join last September. (TWW, Paris Agreement, 9/23/17) This mean we’re the only country in the world that’s not involved. (Quartz)

 

Good News:  For once I have something good to tell you. TJX Companies, which owns TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and HomeGoods, is continuing to pay its employees in Puerto Rico “even though many of its stores remain closed.” There are 29 stores in Puerto Rico. Spokesperson Erika Tower said: “We believe it is the right thing for us to do under these circumstances.” (The Hill)

 

AT&T and Time Warner:  The proposed merger between the 2 telecommunication giants has still not been approved. The Justice Department has said it will not approve the deal unless the merged companies agree to sell Turner Broadcast - “the group of cable channels that includes CNN.” Other than that, the only other possible way to get approved would be for AT&T to sell its DirecTV division. (NY Times) Is this about anti-trust or because CNN is Trump’s least favorite  network?

 

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