News Releases

Tax “Reform”: An Attack on Work

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RICHARD L. KAPLAN, rkaplan at illinois.edu
Kaplan holds a chair at the University of Illinois School of Law and is a leading expert on taxation. Kaplan’s books include Advanced Taxation and Elder Law.

He said today: “A leading principle of these tax ‘reform’ bills — both the House and Senate versions — is clearly to reward donors to the Republican party. It lessens taxes on businesses, especially capital intensive rather than labor intensive business.

“The corporate income tax cut from 35 to 20 percent is steep, but through a series of mechanisms — some call them loopholes — corporations are now paying about 19 percent. Those leakages are mostly staying in place, so the effective rate after this act will be much lower.

“Significantly — and this is too rarely discussed — this keeps in place the system of taxing capital gains at substantially lower rate than labor. Warren Buffett and Mitt Romney get taxed at a lower rate on their investments than people do for their actual work. This legislation is effectively doubling down on a war on work.

“The one major innovation is creating a new tax-favored category of income called ‘pass-through’ income received from partnerships and personal businesses. This change will set up very serious compliance challenges for the IRS to demarcate wage-like income from profits received as business-owners.

“The cuts to the estate and gift taxes are huge, as is the complete write-off for depreciation.

“In contrast, people who work for a living are not seeing much benefit, in some cases, they may see increases, especially because of the end of state and local taxes write-offs.

“Medicare and Medicaid could get cut down the line as a result of this proposed law because of the resulting federal deficits and might trigger existing provisions that require reductions of Medicare’s expenditures.

“Workers are also hurt by how medical expenses are treated in the House version and how educational assistance is handled. There’s been some attention to how graduate school assistants would have a dramatic rise in taxes, but it’s more widespread than that. The legislation effectively disincentivizes educating workers generally.”

Newsweek: Kushner Failed to Disclose Funding Illegal Israeli Settlements

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CHRIS RIOTTA, chrisriotta@gmail.com, @chrisriotta

A reporter at Newsweek covering the Trump administration and first family, Riotta just wrote the piece “Jared Kushner Failed to Disclose He Led a Foundation Funding Illegal Israeli Settlements Before U.N. Vote.”

The piece states: “Jared Kushner failed to disclose his role as a co-director of the Charles and Seryl Kushner Foundation from 2006 to 2015, a time when the group funded an Israeli settlement considered to be illegal under international law, on financial records he filed with the Office of Government Ethics earlier this year.

“The latest development follows reports on Friday indicating the White House senior adviser attempted to sway a United Nations Security Council vote against an anti-settlement resolution passed just before Donald Trump took office, which condemned the structure of West Bank settlements. The failure to disclose his role in the foundation — at a time when he was being tasked with serving as the president’s Middle East peace envoy — follows a pattern of egregious omissions that would bar any other official from continuing to serve in the West Wing, experts and officials told Newsweek. …

“Kushner demanded future National Security Adviser Mike Flynn ‘get on the phone to every member of the Security Council and tell them to delay the vote’ on the West Bank settlement resolution, Buzzfeed reported Friday. The move may have violated the over 200-years-old law called the Logan Act, which bars ‘unauthorized citizens’ from negotiating with ‘foreign governments having a dispute with the United States.'”

Riotta’s other recent pieces for Newsweek include: “Jared Kushner Can’t Pass His Security Clearance Probe,” “Visitor Logs Reveal Trump’s Swamp of Billionaires” and “Jared Kushner Delays Senate Deadline for Russia Contact.”

Honduras Coup? Charges of Election Rigging Escalating into Curfew, Attacks on Pro-Democracy Activists

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The New York Times is reporting: “The Honduran government imposed a curfew on Friday and ordered security forces to move against protesters blocking roads and bridges, escalating a political crisis over the disputed count of votes from the presidential election last weekend.

“The announcement late Friday came after what began as peaceful demonstrations by supporters of the opposition candidate, Salvador Nasralla, turned violent in some places. The government said the curfew would go into effect for 10 days, during which time anyone found outdoors between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. could be arrested.

“The move by the government of President Juan Orlando Hernández, who is seeking a second term, prompted fears that he might try to find a way to stay in office even if the final vote count went against him.

“Edmundo Orellana, a former justice and defense minister, said on Twitter that to issue such a decree while votes are being counted was ‘the same thing as a coup d’état.'”

Follow this Twitter list for the latest information.

SUYAPA PORTILLO, [in Honduras] lavidagris at gmail.com, @SuyapaPV

Portillo observed the election in Honduras. She is an assistant professor at Pitzer College. Upon returning to the U.S. earlier this week, she appeared on the program “Democracy Now.”

On Friday, a letter Portillo helped organize, signed by scores of academics including Miguel Tinker Salas and Dana Frank, was released: “We have followed Sunday’s elections closely and with optimism for fair and evenhanded proceedings to set the course for Honduras’ future. We are, however, concerned that the TSE’s [Supreme Electoral Tribunal] actions, particularly since the polls closed and as votes were tallied, have been secretive, lacking in transparency and accountability.

“The TSE has kept the Honduran people in the dark as to vote-counting procedures and progress. It is unclear, for example, where vote tallies are coming from and what are the outcomes in various jurisdictions where vote totals have already been counted.”

MARK WEISBROT, via Dan Beeton, beeton at cepr.net, @ceprdc
Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. Weisbrot appeared on The Real News on Friday.

Also on Friday, the group released a statement: “Given the lack of transparency and credible allegations of irregularities in tabulating results from Sunday’s elections, Honduran electoral authorities should commit to a full recount of all the votes in order to restore credibility to the electoral process,” Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) co-director Mark Weisbrot said.

“Weisbrot noted that after the first 57 percent of the votes showed opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla winning by about 5 percentage points, the next 38 percent of the votes split 47 percent to 35 percent in favor of incumbent president Juan Orlando Hernández. The chances of this occurring, had the first 57 percent been drawn as a random sample of tally sheets, is next to impossible.”

“Not Just Russia” — Flynn’s Lie about Israel

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Journalist Marcy Wheeler tweeted this morning: “The big news is that Flynn lied to F.B.I. about [Israeli] settlements vote. This is not just RU [Russia], folks. Never has been.”

The New York Times reports in “Michael Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to the F.B.I.” that: “In one of the conversations described in court documents, the men discussed an upcoming United Nations Security Council vote on whether to condemn Israel’s building of settlements. At the time, the Obama administration was preparing to allow a Security Council vote on the matter.

“Mr. Mueller’s investigators have learned through witnesses and documents that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel asked the Trump transition team to lobby other countries to help Israel, according to two people briefed on the inquiry. Investigators have learned that Mr. Flynn and Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, took the lead in those efforts. Mr. Mueller’s team has emails that show Mr. Flynn saying he would work to kill the vote, the people briefed on the matter said.”

RICHARD SILVERSTEIN, richards1052 at comcast.net, @richards1052
Silverstein writes on security and other issues for a number of outlets and blogs at Tikun Olam. He tweeted this morning: “Michael Flynn expected to plead guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about Trump administration lobbying for Israel against UN settlements resolution. This is BIG!”

He just wrote the piece “The curious case of Jared Kushner and the Israel lobby.”

Did Trump Greenlight Neoconservative Takeover Of State Dept. And CIA?

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ELI CLIFTON, [in NYC] eliclifton at gmail.com, @EliClifton
Clifton is a Nation Institute fellow and regular contributor to the foreign policy analysis website LobeLog. He just wrote the piece “Did Trump Greenlight Neoconservative Takeover Of State Dept. And CIA?

Clifton writes: “Donald Trump is likely to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and choose Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) to take over the intelligence agency, according to ‘senior administration officials’ who spoke to The New York Times. That move would mark an elevation of two neoconservative Iran hawks to the most influential positions in national intelligence gathering and diplomacy. It is also a striking departure from Trump’s campaign rhetoric denouncing previous administrations who saw the U.S. as ‘policeman of the world’ and the George W. Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq as based on a ‘lie.’

“Pompeo, who was one of the House’s most consistent anti-Iran voices, was already ‘argu[ing] against the [Iran] deal’ when he took over at the CIA, according to a report in July. The fact that Pompeo was engaging in the administration’s internal debate raises serious questions about the potential politicization of intelligence-gathering and analysis under the Trump administration, echoing the process that led to the false intelligence assessments widely disseminated in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.

“Pompeo’s appointment as chief spokesperson for U.S. foreign policy makes a virtual certainty that Trump will withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal and put the U.S. at odds with its closest European allies.

“And Trump’s apparent willingness to accept intelligence briefings alongside political arguments from Pompeo, and potentially from Cotton, shows a new and more welcoming attitude toward neoconservatives and the network of institutions and funders who played central roles in pushing the Iraq war and advocating for confrontation with Iran over the past decade.

“Cotton is a protégé of neoconservative pundit and Iraq war proponent Bill Kristol. Kristol cultivated Cotton when Cotton was still in the Army, stationed near Washington. ‘Kristol saw a kindred spirt in Cotton’s aggressive national-security hawkishness and the men developed what Kristol describes as a “bond beyond pure policy,”‘ according to a 2014 profile of Cotton in The Atlantic.

“That bond extended to Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel making $1 million in ad buys supporting Cotton’s 2014 Senate campaign.

“But Cotton’s ties to influential Iran hawks aren’t limited to Bill Kristol. As a Senate candidate, he enjoyed fundraising assistance from the hawkish Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC).”

Are Sexual Predators Enabled by Secrecy Agreements?

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PAUL BLAND, pbland at publicjustice.net
LESLIE BAILEY, lbailey at publicjustice.net, @Public_Justice
Bland is executive director of the group Public Justice. Bailey is a staff attorney there; her expertise includes court secrecy.

Bland said today: “Far too often, secrecy agreements — in settlements, in nondisclosure agreements, in forced arbitration clauses — enable sexual predators to evade detection. As a result, in a series of cases, women have been raped, assaulted and harassed by men who had already been caught committing these acts before, but were able to hide their crimes through secrecy clauses. Women injured by sexual predators are often put under enormous pressure to submit to these types of fine print gag orders, and it has had a terrible public cost, only a small part of which has come to light. Public Justice strongly believes that the U.S. Congress needs to take strong steps to ban these abusive provisions.”

Bailey said today: “For every woman speaking out right now about being assaulted or sexually harassed, there are countless others who can’t tell their story without risking legal sanctions — because they had to agree to secrecy as a condition of keeping their job or settling a lawsuit. Seeing several powerful men lose their jobs might make it feel like we’re at a tipping point. But if we’re going to make real systemic change, we first need to do something about the legal tools that allow abusers — including those whose jobs don’t put them in the public eye — to keep getting away with it.”

GOP’s “Tax Cut Bonanza is a Major Attack on Medicare”

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NANCY ALTMAN, LINDA BENESCH, lbenesch at socialsecurityworks.org, @ssworks
Altman is president of Social Security Works; Benesch is communications director for the group. They recently wrote the piece “The GOP’s tax cut bonanza is a major attack on Medicare,” published by Salon.

The piece states: “Do you trust Paul Ryan to protect your Medicare benefits? How about White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, a former member of the House Freedom Caucus, and like Ryan, a longstanding foe of Medicare?

“If the just-passed House tax bill, its Senate counterpart or some compromise of the two is signed into law, the enactment will put Medicare’s future in the hands of Ryan and Mulvaney.

“According to the Congressional Budget Office, the GOP tax bill will instantly trigger $400 billion in automatic cuts to Medicare in the next 10 years, including $25 billion in the first year after enactment alone.

“These cuts are the result of a law known as Statutory PAYGO. That law requires an automatic cut in spending when Congress increases the deficit. The tax bill is, in Donald Trump’s words, ‘a big, beautiful Christmas present’ — for Trump’s family and other billionaires. If the Republicans are successful in passing a tax bill that increases the deficit by $1.5 trillion, as they intend, the provisions of PAYGO will be activated.

“To be clear: If the tax bill passes the Senate and is signed into law by Trump, nothing more needs to be done to cut Medicare. If the House and Senate do nothing, the cuts take effect immediately after the end of the congressional session and get bigger every passing year. A vote for this tax bill is a vote to cut Medicare.

“These Medicare cuts could be waived if a majority of the House and 60 senators vote to do so. But given the Republican hostility to Medicare, together with Social Security and Medicaid, not acting and then blaming an Obama-era law is much more likely. Paul Ryan readily admits that he has been dreaming of cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security since he was a college student ‘drinking out of kegs.’ There’s no way he would pass up such a golden opportunity.”

Tax Plan: Goldman Always Wins

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GARY RIVLIN, garyrivlin at gmail.com, @grivlin
Available for a limited number of interviews, Rivlin is a reporting fellow with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute. A former New York Times reporter, he is the author of six books, including, most recently, Katrina: After the Flood.

He recently co-wrote the pieces “Gary Cohn Is Giving Goldman Sachs Everything It Ever Wanted From the Trump Administration” about the director of the National Economic Council, and “Wall Street Wants to Kill the Agency Protecting Americans From Financial Scams.”

Rivlin wrote: “Like anyone taking a top job in the Trump administration, Cohn was required to sign a pledge vowing not to participate for the next two years in any matter ‘that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.’ But presidents have sometimes issued waivers to these requirements, and it is unclear whether the Trump administration is making such waivers public. …

“Cohn shared the podium with fellow Goldman alum [Treasury Secretary Steven] Mnuchin (the two made partner there the same year) when the administration unveiled its new tax plan, one that, if the past is prelude, had the potential to save Goldman more than $1 billion a year in corporate taxes. …

“Years of financial disclosure forms confirm that Cohn is indeed very rich. At the end of 2016, he owned some 900,000 shares of Goldman Sachs stock, a stake worth around $220 million on the day Trump announced his appointment. Plus, he’d sold a million more Goldman shares over the previous half-dozen years. In 2007 alone, the year of the big short, Goldman Sachs paid him nearly $73 million — more than the firm paid CEO Lloyd Blankfein. …

“In the wake of the … white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Cohn confessed to the Financial Times that he has ‘come under enormous pressure both to resign and to remain.’ But the man who the Washington Post has dubbed Trump’s ‘moderate voice’ declared that neo-Nazis would not force ‘this Jew’ to leave his job. ‘As a patriotic American, I am reluctant to leave my post as director of the National Economic Council,’ Cohn told FT. ‘I feel a duty to fulfill my commitment to work on behalf of the American people.’

“Or at least a few of them. The Trump economic agenda, it turns out, is largely the Goldman agenda, one with the potential to deliver any number of gifts to the firm that made Cohn colossally rich. If Cohn stays, it will be to pursue an agenda of aggressive financial deregulation and massive corporate tax cuts — he seeks to slash rates by 57 percent — that would dramatically increase profits for large financial players like Goldman. …

“Goldman received at least $22.9 billion in public bailouts, including $10 billion in TARP funds and $12.9 billion in taxpayer-funded payments from AIG. …

“Yet rather than publicly recuse himself on attempts to undo Dodd-Frank, Cohn has led the charge from inside the White House. On that matter, Cohn is a walking, talking conflict of interest. …

“As federal investigations found, the firm, which still claims ‘our clients’ interests always come first’ as a core principle, failed to disclose that its top people saw disaster in the very products its salespeople were continuing to hawk.

“Goldman still held billions of mortgages on its books in December 2006 — mortgages that Cohn and other Goldman executives suspected would soon be worth much less than the firm had paid for them. So, while Cohn was overseeing one team inside Goldman Sachs preoccupied with implementing the big short, he was in regular contact with others scrambling to offload its subprime inventory. One Goldman trader described the mortgage-backed securities they were selling as ‘shitty.'”

Can Post-Coup Honduras Have a Fair Election?

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The New York Times reports Monday morning: “Salvador Nasralla, a former sportscaster running at the head of a left-wing alliance, was leading Monday in Honduran elections and was rushing to claim victory over President Juan Orlando Hernández. A win by Mr. Nasralla would represent a sharp rebuke to Mr. Hernández, an authoritarian leader who has maneuvered to take control over most of the country’s fragile institutions.”

Al Jazeera is reporting: “The Supreme Electoral Tribunal was expected to release preliminary results around 7 p.m. local time, but the body suspended the process for nearly seven hours. … Despite the lack of official results, Hernandez declared himself the winner at approximately 8 p.m. local time. Hours later, Nasralla, who said he had information from inside the vote counting process, claimed victory. … Opposition Alliance supporters celebrated outside the Supreme Electoral Tribunal in the early hours of Monday morning as riot police lined the premises.”

The Economist reported over the weekend: “Is Honduras’s ruling party planning to rig an election?” “A recording obtained by the Economist suggests it may be. That merits investigation.”

Former president Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a U.S.-backed coup in 2009, said in an interview with Sputnik Sunday: “Children of the coup are ruling Honduras. They have established a repressive, military and authoritarian regime. They violate human rights. They have beggared the country. And the U.S. has been covering up for this dictatorship.”

DANA FRANK, danafrank at ucsc.edu
Available for a very limited number of interviews, Frank is professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her writings on post-2009 coup Honduras have appeared in the New York Times, Foreign Affairs and other publications.

She said Sunday: “The Honduran elections, especially President Juan Orlando Hernández’s criminal candidacy in violation of the Honduran Constitution, continue to underscore the utter breakdown of the rule of law in Honduras since the 2009 coup — with the blessing of the U.S. government, which continues to celebrate a regime thoroughly marked by corruption and the vicious repression of basic civil liberties. Reports from the Honduran government claiming that the crime rate is down or that the police have been cleaned up should not be believed for a minute.”

SUYAPA PORTILLO, [in Honduras], lavidagris at gmail.com, @SuyapaPV, Skype: solentiname74
Portillo is observing the election in Honduras. She is an assistant professor at Pitzer College.

She wrote in the early Monday morning: “After a long day, which for many started at 4 a.m. in the different voting centers held in public schools, the results were unknown. By 1 a.m. some voting centers were still counting votes and submitting results. The TSE [Supreme Electoral Tribunal] did not declare a winner for presidential candidate, even though the overwhelming victory of Salvador Nasralla was palpable in the result tally that many were keeping outside the voting centers. Close to 1:40 a.m., the TSE reported 855,847 votes, giving Nasralla the victory with 45.17 percent of the electorate over Juan Orlando Hernandez’ 761,872 votes (40.21 percent).

“My students and I were international observers in San Pedro Sula, Cortes, Honduras and visited over 13 voting centers throughout the most marginalized sectors of the city. The energy and enthusiasm was palpable, people voted, and came back for the count, el escrutinio [scrutiny], at the end of the day. They did not leave until the tables for their voting center and neighborhood were adequately represented. Voters stood outside tallying the numbers in notepads or any paper they could find. This was an active citizenry that came out to defend their vote.

“There were anomalies, which I reported on Twitter. … For example, there were cases of people who appeared as if they had already voted when they arrived to cast their vote. The citizenry watched with an eagle eye, distrusting the system and the TSE, which is controlled by Juan Orlando Hernandez.

“The voting centers were closed one hour earlier than the usual 5 p.m. close time — they were closed at 4 p.m., raising more distrust. Even so, in most of the centers I visited to see the counting process, it was clear Nasralla was winning by a landslide in entire voting centers, ballot box by ballot box.

“People … fear the elections could still be stolen from them as they were in 2013, say many. Everyone, though celebrating, is cautiously awaiting the morning hours to see the progress in the tallying of votes at the TSE. This election has to be won fair and clear for many who have suffered under Juan Orlando’s regime.”

JAKE JOHNSTON, via Dan Beeton, beeton at cepr.net, @JakobJohnston
A research associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Johnston just broke the story “Top U.S.-Backed Honduran Security Minister Is Running Drugs, According to Court Testimony” for the Intercept. See also, “Will elections in Honduras be a step forward or another step backward?” by CEPR senior associate for international policy, Alexander Main, which gives critical background.

Net Neutrality Protests to Hit Verizon Stores During Holiday Shopping Season

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Edward S. Herman, a longtime-supporter of the Institute for Public Accuracy, died recently. See Washington Post obituary. He was a noted critic of corporate power, including media giants. Among his books were The Myth of the Liberal Media and (with Noam Chomsky) Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. See also a series of his interviews with The Real News from 2012.

The Chicago Tribune reports today: “End of net neutrality rules said to be near as FCC plans to vote.”

MARY ALICE CRIM, via Tim Karr, tkarr at freepress.net, @freepress

Mary Alice Crim is the Free Press Action Fund’s field director. The group stated today: “Internet users outraged by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to gut Net Neutrality are planning to protest at Verizon retail stores across the country on Thursday, Dec. 7, one week before an expected vote at the FCC. In some cities, protesters will march from Verizon stores to lawmakers’ offices.

“The protests will highlight the company’s role lobbying to kill rules that prevent telecom giants from charging extra fees, engaging in censorship, or controlling what internet users see and do through discriminatory throttling. Protesters will carry signs calling on their members of Congress to speak out against Verizon’s attacks on Net Neutrality and publicly oppose the FCC’s plan, which is expected to be released this week.

“See the website announcing the protests here: VerizonProtests.com.

“Ajit Pai’s plan is expected to contain a ‘total repeal’ of Net Neutrality protections, posing a grave threat to the future of freedom of expression, access to information, and small businesses particularly for communities of color and low income communities.” See full statement.

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