• Lois Lerner, infamous IRS exec, wants to keep the public from seeing the testimony that nails her

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    Lois Lerner and her #2, Holly Paz, say they fear harm from an “enraged public” and want their own IRS testimony sealed forever (Washington Times)

    The government eventually admitted the IRS had acted illegally and promised not to do it again. The mainstream media essentially ignored the admission. Nothing to see here. Move along.

    That’s what Lerner and Paz want to do now.

    Ms. Lerner and Ms. Paz gave taped depositions in a class-action lawsuit brought by tea party groups demanding answers and compensation for having been subjected to illegal targeting for their political beliefs.

    The government settled the class-action lawsuit in Ohio and another tea party challenge in the District of Columbia in two agreements last month, admitting to the illegal behavior. The Ohio settlement also called for the government to pay $3.5 million to the tea party groups, according to one of the plaintiffs.

    Ms. Lerner came in for particular criticism, with the government admitting she not only didn’t stop the targeting — contradicting the Obama administration’s claims — but also hid it from her superiors in Washington. –Washington Times

    Lots of people are fighting Lerner and Paz’s motion, as is the Cincinnati newspaper.

    Comment: These are public records by public officials. They ought to be available to the public.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, November 6

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    Trump in Asia: What Matters about the Trip (a comment)

    The trip has three main goals, all important but in tension with each other

    • Contain or eliminate North Korean nuclear threat to US and US allies (depends on China’s cooperation)
    • Reduce China’s trade surplus with US, ideally by opening China’s domestic market to US exports
    • Deter an expanding Chinese threat in South China Sea (reinforce America’s partnership with nations surrounding China)

    Trump is also likely to meet with Putin, with North Korea, Syria, and Iran as major topics

     Texas church shooting: A crazed, well-armed guy furious with his former in-laws, who worshipped at the church he attacked

    That’s the report from local news outlets in the San Antonio area (KSAT in San Antonio)

    Comment: Some commentators will stress his beliefs (“he was an atheist”). That is not what drove him. Anger and crazed impulsiveness, not ideology, are the drivers here.

     Mueller Leaking: NBC reports he has enough evidence to charge Mike Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Adviser

    Special ZipDialog commentary here

    Another college attack on free-speech: Vassar students smear Wm. Jacobson (of Legal Insurrection blog) because he supports free speech (USA Today)

    Comment: Vassar, like so many small, elite colleges, is suffused with hard-left ideology.

    They should call these schools “Illiberal Arts Colleges.”

    Chicago nearing 600 homicides, most since 2003 (Chicago Tribune)

    How bad is it? The city has instituted a new program to show people how to stop bleeding from gunshot wounds (Chicago Tribune)

    Comment: N

    Investigators suspect US journalists were paid to spread materials from the Clinton/FusionGPS/Russian Dossier (Washington Times)

    In U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Fusion GPS, the dossier’s financier via the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign money, is fighting a House committee chairman’s bid to find out if the opposition research firm paid journalists.

    In U.S. District Court in Florida, a self-described dossier victim wants a judge to order the news website BuzzFeed, which published the dossier in full, to disclose who gave it to them. –Washington Times

    Comment: Fusion GPS is fighting so tenacious to prevent any disclosures of their receipts and expenditures, you can’t help but think they might have something to hide.

    Pleading the 5th Amendment before Congress was also a hint.

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    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Tim Favero for the Vassar, William Jacobson story

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, November 3

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    Bowe Bergdahl, Army deserter held by Taliban, avoids prison sentence (Washington Post)

    Comment: This outcome is shocking. US soldiers died looking for this creep. Others were injured. Lots of resources devoted to finding a soldier who voluntarily abandoned his post and planned for weeks to do so.

    Pres. Trump immediately weighed in, via Twitter. My guess is that Trump’s position will be very popular on this issue. He’s implicitly daring the Democrats to come out on the other side, as many of them did (to their cost) on the NFL kneeling.

    More good economic news: Unemployment down to 4.1%, the lowest rate since 2000.

    Less good: Wage growth slow (Wall Street Journal, subscription)

    Best news of all: Strong Productivity Growth. (CNBC)

    Comments: Productivity growth is crucial. It is the underlying source of real wage growth.

    The biggest problem for the economy now is the misfit between the skilled jobs available and the unskilled workers who are unemployed.

    Tax Bill, next phase: We will find new details (none good, otherwise they wouldn’t be hidden), and gored oxen will come out to save themselves

    Example of hidden details:

    House Republicans claim the tax plan they introduced Thursday keeps the top individual rate unchanged at 39.6 percent—the level at which it’s been capped for much of the past quarter-century. But a little-noticed provision effectively creates a new band in which income is taxed at over 45 percent.

    Thanks to a quirky proposed surcharge, Americans who earn more than $1 million in taxable income would trigger an extra 6 percent tax on the next $200,000 they earn—a complicated change that effectively creates a new, unannounced tax bracket of 45.6 percent. –Politico

    Example of gored oxen:  Republican Tax Proposal Gets Failing Grade From Higher-Ed Groups (Chronicle of Higher Education)

    The House tax-reform proposal released today would discourage participation in postsecondary education, make college more expensive for those who do enroll, and undermine the financial stability of public and private two-year and four-year colleges and universities,” said Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education and under secretary of education in the Obama administration, in a written statement.

    In broad terms, the bill would eliminate or consolidate a number of tax deductions meant to offset the costs of higher education for individuals and companies, including the Lifetime Learning Credit, which provides a tax deduction of up to $2,000 for tuition, a credit for student-loan interest, and a $5,250 corporate deduction for education-assistance plans. –Chronicle of Higher Education

    Comment: There is also tremendous pushback on the limitations on deducting state and local taxes, led by Republicans in high-tax states.

    These issues will be fought out over the next month, first in House committee, then on the floor in both chambers, then in reconciliation.

     Spain issues arrest warrant for Catalonia’s leader, who has fled the country (BBC)

    ◆ Mainstream media ignore bombshell, documented revelation that Hillary and DNC rigged primaries

    All three major TV news networks completely skip the story (Fox News)

    NYT: nothing

    Comment: It’s not surprising that most Democratic politicians are silent. But the story is a significant one, and it’s omission by mainstream outlets is bias, pure and simple.

     Pressure builds on AG Jeff Sessions, accused of false or misleading statements to Congress. The issue: what he knew Trump campaign officials’ contacts with Russia 

    The Atlantic magazine calls it: “Jeff Sessions’ Selective Memory

     

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    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Robert Pahre for the Chronicle of Higher Education story

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, November 2

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Republicans roll out their tax plan. Here are the key provisions

    I lay out all the key provisions in a separate post at ZipDialog.

    The basics from The Wall Street Journal:

    Business:

    • Rates permanently drop from 35% to 20%, with lots of other changes in deductibility
    • One-time tax of 12% to repatriate overseas profits, returning them to US

    Individuals:

    • Reduces seven individual income tax brackets to four at 12%, 25%, 35% and 39.6%.
    • Top tax bracket set for married couples earning $1,000,000.
    • Bottom tax bracket extends up to $90,000 for couples.
    • No change to top tax rates on capital gains and dividend income.
    • No change to 401(k) rules
    • Nearly doubles individual standard deduction to $24,400 for married couples.
    • New limit on home mortgage-interest deduction at loans up to $500,000, down from $1,000,000, but existing loans would be grandfathered.
    • Keeps estate-tax. Sets exemption at $5.6 million per person and $11.2 million per married couple. Repeals the tax in 2024.
    • Repeals the alternative minimum tax
    • No deduction for state taxes.
    • Keeps deduction for local taxes up to $10,000

    Comment: Now the pushing and shoving begins. The Democrats yell, “Hurts the poor.” The Republicans yell, “Grows the economy for everyone.”

    Democrats will also say it inflates the deficit. They said nothing when Pres. Obama did the same thing.

     Houston Astros win the World Series

    Here’s the wonderful front page of the Houston Chronicle:

    Comment: Great series between two outstanding teams.

    Seven Democratic Senators introduce legislation to slow the revolving door between regulators and Big Pharma (Washington Post)

    No Republicans have signed on, so far.

    Comment: This goes to the essence of the Swamp.

     Rigged Nomination Process: Clinton and DNC, says former Dem. chair Donna Brazile (Politico).

    Brazile, who took over as temporary DNC chair from Debbie Wasserman Schultz, saw documents in which Hillary Clinton’s campaign loaned money to the DNC in exchange for essentially fully control of the party apparatus a year before she was officially nominated.

    Comment: Bernie Sanders and his supporters had claimed the process was rigged. Brazile’s new book say they were right.

    Neither Clinton nor Wasserman Schultz has commented.

    If you are still shocked by this kind of corruption, you haven’t been paying attention.

     

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  • The Republican Tax Proposal: A Quick Summary

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Republicans roll out their tax plan. Here are the key provisions

    The Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports:

    Business: 

    • Rates permanently drop from 35% to 20%, with lots of other changes in deductibility
    • One-time tax of 12% to repatriate overseas profits, returning them to US

    Individuals:

    • Reduces seven individual income tax brackets to four at 12%, 25%, 35% and 39.6%.
    • Top tax bracket set for married couples earning $1,000,000 per year and individuals earning $500,000.
    • Bottom tax bracket extends up to $90,000 for couples and $45,000 for individuals.
    • The proposal doesn’t change the top tax rates on capital gains and dividend income.
    • Keeps 401(k) rules intact
    • Nearly doubles individual standard deduction to $24,400 for married couples and $12,200 for singles in 2018.
    • Increases child tax credit from $1,000 in 2017 to $1,600 plus $300 for each taxpayer, spouse and non-child dependents.
    • Places new limit on home mortgage-interest deduction at loans up to $500,000, down from $1,000,000, but existing loans would be grandfathered.
      • Comment: Big impact on expensive homes, especially hitting NYC, San Francisco, Boston, and wealthy suburbs
    • Keeps estate-tax. Sets exemption at $5.6 million per person and $11.2 million per married couple. Repeals the tax in 2024.
    • Repeals the alternative minimum tax
    • Repeals an itemized deduction for medical expenses.
    • Repeals deduction for student-loan interest.
    • State tax deduction eliminated; local tax deduction changed (link here)

    Families would also no longer be able to deduct their state income taxes from their federal taxable income, another change that would have a particular impact on places like New Jersey and New York, where state taxes are higher than in other areas. Taxpayers will be able to deduct their property taxes up to $10,000. –Washington Post

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  • Very good news in the Housing Market

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    New home sales surge 18.9 percent in September, highest level in 10 years (Reuters via CNBC)

    The increase came across all US regions.

    Sales of new U.S. single-family homes unexpectedly rose in September, hitting their highest level in nearly 10 years, offering hope that the housing market was regaining speed after appearing to stall in recent months.

    The Commerce Department said on Wednesday new home sales surged 18.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 667,000 units last month amid an increase in all four regions. That was the highest level since October 2007 and followed August’s upwardly revised sales pace of 561,000 units.  ….

    At September’s robust sales pace it would take 5.0 months to clear the supply of houses on the market, down from 6.0 months in August.

    A six-month supply is viewed as a healthy balance between supply and demand. –CNBC

    A reminder: all single-month data bounces around.

    Comment: The downside is that the Federal Reserve may take this as another indicator that it can raise interest rates. (My hunch: it will raise rates to partially offset the stimulus effect of a major tax cut, if and when that is passed.)

  • Government Debt and Political Hypocrisy (by both parties)

    I just read the comment of a Democratic friend who is shocked, shocked that Pres. Trump’s tax proposals will increase the US budget deficit.

    Factually, he’s right. So say all the static projections I’ve seen.

    But, as Paul Harvey used to say, here’s the rest of the story.

    My comment: US debt is a serious issue, but the political sparring is utterly hypocritical. It’s not just my Democratic friend. The Republicans are filling the air with their own false platitudes.

    Under Pres. Obama, US government debt doubled. We were not in a recession, as measured by economists, though we were coming out of a scary one.  During the Obama presidency, the economy was growing, albeit slowly.

    While Pres. Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi were busy blowing up the budget, the Dems had only praise for “government investments” and “the stimulus effect.” As for the spiraling national debt, they were deaf, dumb, and blind. But they sure played a mean pinball.

     

    Here is the data from the (truly) non-partisan Center for a Responsibility Federal Budget, which does not lay all the blame on Pres. Obama.

    Not only were the totals substantially higher, they were substantially higher as a percentage of US GDP.

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    The Sky Is Falling . . . or not

     

    At the time, Republicans strenuously complained, “The sky is falling.”

    Now, the shoe is on the other foot–and it is the other party complaining.

    And the rebuttals are coming from Republicans, not Democrats.

    It is the “party of fiscal responsibility” that is downplaying the impact of the tax cuts on national debt.

    Their main claim: “It’s all about growth.”

    The Democrats, who have never met a deficit they didn’t like, are complaining, “The sky is falling.”

    ♦♦♦♦♦

    Democratic Complaints about Republican Deficits

    The Democrats’ complaints center on two issues.

    • First, the plan is Republican and the government is controlled by Republicans, not their own party. In this Congress, with this President, the Democrats’ attitude echoes Groucho Marx’s song, “Whatever it is, I’m against it.”

    • Second, the deficit will be caused by the government taking less money from citizens rather than the Democrats’ preferred way of running deficits: excess government spending.

    Both sides richly deserve the Claude Rains Medal for hypocrisy.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, October 22

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    Japan’s tough, pro-American prime minister, Shinzo Abe, wins overwhelming reelection (Reuters)

    If he completes his upcoming 3-year term, he would become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. Economically, he has tried to relaunch the economy with monetary easing. Militarily, he has tried to ease the constraints of Japan’s pacifist constitution.

    [Japan’s] U.S.-drafted constitution’s Article 9, if taken literally, bans the maintenance of armed forces. But Japanese governments have interpreted it to allow a military exclusively for self-defense.

    Backers of Abe’s proposal to clarify the military’s ambiguous status say it would codify the status quo. Critics fear it would allow an expanded role overseas for the military.

    Abe said he would not stick to a target he had floated of making the changes by 2020. –Reuters

    Comment: Abe’s reelection, which infuriates China, helps the US in squeezing North Korea.

    Pres. Trump says he will bring “biggest tax cuts ever in the history of this country” (Fox News, Trump interview with Maria Bartiromo)

    Says he thinks he has the votes, emphasizing the cuts but says there will be reform, also.

    Expresses some optimism on health-care changes, praises Lamar Alexander and emphasizes block grants to states.

     UN’s World Health Organization cancels outrageous appointment of dictator Robert Mugabe as “goodwill ambassador” (Washington Post)

    The outcry rocketed around the world after this week’s announcement and seemed centered around one primary point: Can you be a “goodwill ambassador” if the world widely regards you as a violent, tyrannical despot? –Washington Post

    Comment: Some Twitter responses parodied the appointment, suggesting Kim Jong Un as Mugabe’s replacement.

    Battle among Republicans:  McConnell says Bannon, others gunning to knock off GOP incumbents are ‘specialists at nominating people who lose’ (Washington Post)

    McConnell went on to say that the effort of Bannon and others “isn’t going to help President Trump achieve his agenda. He needs a Republican Senate and a Republican House to confirm judges, to pass legislation that is important to him and to the country.” –Washington Post

    Comment: Bannon and his supporters respond that McConnell’s people have not actually passed the Trump agenda.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, October 20

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Tax Cuts, Tax Reform gaining momentum

    The Senate passed a Budget Resolution, the essential prelude to any effort to pass tax reform. Without the resolution, the tax bill could be stopped unless it had 60 votes. With the resolution, it needs 50 votes.

    Analysis: Whether it can get 50 votes depends on the details, which will affect different states, income groups, and economic sectors differently.

    Ending the deduction for state and local taxes, for example, hurts high-income people in high-tax states. That could cost Republican House votes if they represent such districts. (Most analysis misses the point that the state taxes hit high earners more so Republicans from middle-class districts might not be affected.)

    Giving everyone a large standard deduction sounds great . . . except to the residential real-estate industry, which thinks it will render mortage deductions meaningless for many middle-income buyers.

    Plus, we don’t yet know the breakpoints between tax brackets, so the impact on middle-income families cannot be forecast accurately.

    Politically, the Republicans must pass tax cuts. Whether they must pass larger reforms is less obvious. But even “must pass” legislation is a problem for this bunch.

     Unmasking investigation

    Obama’s UN Ambassador Samantha Power made more unmasking requests than McDonald’s makes hamburgers. Now, Power has told the House Intel Committee that she did not make those unmasking requests. Somebody else did, using her name. (Fox News)

    Since the testimony was behind closed doors, it is unclear if she knew or assented to the requests, if she knows who made the requests, or if “masking” an unmasking request is itself illegal. It is certainly unethical.

    Now, the same committee has called Obama’s last Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, to find out what she knows about these unmaskings and the Russia-Trump investigation. (Fox News)

    Comment #1: This massive unmasking for what seems like political purposes by the Obama Administration is not only a scandal in its own right. It will have real effects on national security if it blocks the renewal of FISA court authority, which must be done soon.

    Comment #2: It has also been reported that the FBI and DOJ knew about Russian bribery to obtain uranium ownership during the Obama years, when Hillary Clinton was Sec. of State. Bill Clinton was paid substantial funds personally for speaking to Russian entities at this time and the family foundation received vast sums (over $100 million) from investors with stakes in the transaction.

    This investigation was not revealed to the heads of Congressional Intelligence Committee, as is required.

    Moreover, this Russian scandal directly involves the FBI when it was head by . . . . Robert Mueller, now in charge of investigating Russian scandals.

    This stinks.

    US-backed forces declare “victory” over ISIS in Raqqa after 4-month battle (CBS)

    Comment: Now that ISIS is circling the drain, the real question is what comes afterwards in Sunni regions of Iraq and Syria.

    Iran and its proxies, Syria and Iraq, are determined to keep the Shiites in charge.

    That will fuel more radical Sunni insurgencies like ISIS and Al Qaeda.

    Catalonia’s bid for independence: Spain’s central government is now preparing to strip the region of its local powers (Los Angeles Times)

    The region’s president, Carles Puigdemont, did not renounce independence despite a Thursday deadline imposed by the central government.

    The escalating confrontation between Madrid and Spain’s most prosperous region sent ripples of unease across the continent, where European Union leaders are already wary of fissures within the bloc.

    Spain’s worst political crisis in nearly four decades of democracy could hamper a still fragile economic recovery in the country as a whole and cause particular financial harm to Catalonia, which is already experiencing a flurry of corporate flight. –Los Angeles Times

     Comment on Presidents and Fallen Soldier in separate ZipDialog post (here)

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, October 19

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ US consulting firm with ties to the Clintons lobbied on behalf of Russia’s nuclear giant (Circa)

    A Russian nuclear executive, whose company was the target of an FBI investigation and who admitted to corrupt payments to influence the awarding of contracts with the Russian state-owned nuclear energy corporation, paid millions of dollars in consulting fees to an American firm in 2009 and 2010 to lobby the U.S. regulatory agencies and assist the Russian’s who were then attempting to acquire twenty percent of American uranium, according to court documents, a former FBI informant and extensive interviews with law enforcement sources.

    Roughly $3 million in payments from 2010 to 2011 were made to APCO Worldwide Inc., which is described on their website as the second largest lobbying firm in the United States. The firm also provided in kind pro-bono services to Bill Clinton’s foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative, services they begin 2007, according to APCO officials who spoke with Circa

    and press releases from the company. It was during the same time that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was part of the Obama administration board that would eventually approve the sale of the U.S. uranium to Russia. –Sara A. Carter at Circa

    ◆ Great News about the US Economy: Lowest jobless claims since 1973 (Bloomberg)

    Comment: One-month data contains random effects, but the trend is great.

    Head of NBC News dined with Harvey Weinstein, then spiked the well-sourced exposé from Ronan Farrow. Pressure to resign–but he’s still on the job. (Fox News)

    NBC says they are not investigating.

    NBC News is coming under increasing criticism for its failure to investigate why its embattled president, Noah Oppenheim, spiked a bombshell story that would have been the first to expose Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator.

    An NBC spokesperson says the network is not investigating the matter, despite new revelations that Oppenheim sat at small table with Weinstein at an exclusive New York gala in April, when Oppenheim reportedly already knew that his reporter, celebrity scion Ronan Farrow, had obtained damning audio recordings in which Weinstein admitted groping the breasts of an Italian model. –Fox News (link here)

     Screenwriter close to Weinstein highlights Hollywood’s code of omertà: “Everybody f**king knew” (Mashable)

    Scott Rosenberg worked with Weinstein and company for almost a decade:

    “Everybody fucking knew,” he wrote (not once, not twice, but three times) in a lyrical, near novella-length Facebook response to those shrinking away from responsibility in enabling Weinstein’s behavior.

    Hollywood’s general unwillingness to face the music of personal accountability for the rot in their own industry added insult to injury in the onslaught of allegations. Because those (seemingly) well-meaning yet spineless responses only ensure one thing: that this will keep happening. –Mashable

    Comment: Mr. Rosenberg’s choice of words is certainly apt.

    I just hope this little unpleasantness doesn’t keep Hollywood from preaching to the rest of us.

    ◆ John Kelly speaks eloquently about his son’s combat death, says he was “stunned” by a Congresswoman’s criticism of Pres. Trump’s condolence call

    NYT gives it a straightforward headline: Kelly Speaks About Son’s Death and Criticizes Congresswoman Wilson

    CNN gives it an ugly spin: John Kelly’s stirring but incomplete attempt to clean up for Donald Trump

    Comment: CNN’s spin, presented as hard news, is shameful.

    ◆ FUSION GPS:  Founders of the firm behind Trump-Russia dossier take the Fifth (Business Insider)

    Won’t talk to House Intel Committee. Refuse to say who paid for the smear job.

    Comment: The now-discredited dossier is important because then-director of the FBI, James Comey, used it as the basis for an investigation of the Trump campaign.

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    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Tom Elia for the Mashable “everybody knew” story.