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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ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, October 30

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

◆ Today’s legal developments: Separate post at ZipDialog

  • Paul Manafort indicted by Special Counsel Mueller
  • Low-level figure in Trump campaign, George Papadopoulos, pleads guilty to making false statement about Russian contacts

Tony Podesta, top Democratic lobbyist, resigns from his self-named firm amid Mueller investigations (Politico)

[Tony] Podesta has long been a larger than life figure on K Street, growing his business from a boutique firm into a massive lobbying and public relations operation. He is well known for his flashy dressing, vast art collection, generous campaign donations across all levels of Democratic politics and, of course, for his brother John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. –Politico

Experts say Manafort charges under foreign-agents law could spell trouble for Mike Flynn, Tony Podesta (Washington Examiner)

The main allegation is that Manafort was working for a Kremlin-backed group in Ukraine.

Two key points here:

  1. FARA, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, has been used for criminal indictments less than 10 times since 1966
    • I believe there has only been one conviction
  2. So, its use by Mueller against Manafort should frighten Flynn, Podesta, and other lobbyists

 

 

 John Podesta, Debbie Wasserman Schultz told Senate Intel they didn’t know of dossier funding: report (The Hill)

The interviews took place before it was disclosed that Clinton’s campaign and the DNC had paid for the research. It is against the law to make false statements to Congress. –The Hill

Comment: They’ve gone full Sgt. Schultz. They know nothing.

And, of course, Hillary has gone mute.

By the way, her Democratic Party frenemy, Sen. Elizabeth Warren uses a different test pattern when she goes silent:

House of Cards collapses: Netflix cancels series after this year’s production is completed amid sex charges against star Kevin Spacey (Daily Mail)

This comes after ‘Rent’ star Anthony Rapp gave an interview claiming that a then-26-year-old Spacey tried to sexually assault him when he was 14 in 1986

Spacey responded to that allegation with a rambling statement in which he said he did not recall the incident, apologized to Rapp and then came out as gay.

‘I am sorry that Kevin only saw fit to acknowledge his truth when he though it would serve him — just as his denial served him for so many years,’ said Zachary Quinto. –Daily Mail

 

Comment: There are two separate issues here.

One is despicable, if Spacey actually did what he is accused of, namely sexual assaults, especially against children.

The other is openly gay actors attacking Spacey for not coming out earlier as gay. That is a completely distinct issue. They want to build support for open declaration of their sexual orientation. On the other hand, he has a personal right to privacy.

The privacy versus openness issue is interesting and debatable.

The sexual assault allegation are not. They should be investigated for criminal activity. Spacey gave a non-denial apology, saying he didn’t remember, might have been drunk, etc. (I would note that, if he did indeed proposition youngsters, there may well be other instances, which can be investigated.)

Those who say “we all knew” were morally (if not legally) complicit if they knew about assault allegations.

Coming out as gay at a moment when he is being accused seems like throwing dust in the air, trying to obscure the truly serious allegation.

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Democrats Go Full Sgt. Schultz: DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz say they knew nothing about payments to Fusion GPS for Russian Dossier

Here’s The Hill’s story, reported by Jonathan Easley.

And here’s the key point.

Current and past leaders of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) say they had no knowledge that the national party was helping to fund a dossier compiled by a British spy that contained scandalous accusations about President Trump.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the DNC paid millions to the law firm Perkins Coie, where Democratic lawyer Marc Elias worked with the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to construct the memo, which was compiled by British spy Christopher Steele. –The Hill

Since that story posted, John Podesta also denied knowledge. (CNN) He headed Hillary’s campaign.

Comment: They pinned the meter.

Their scrambling shows they know how toxic the story is for them personally, as well as for their institution.

What we don’t know is whether they will tell the same tale under oath, whether there are documents (including Hillary’s missing emails) that would shed light on the purchase of scurrilous information from Kremlin agents, done through three cut-outs (the law firm, which paid Fusion GPS, which then subcontracted with Glenn Steele), with Hillary’s campaign covering up the money trail.

On Federal election disclosure forms, they simply said it was payment for “legal services.”

Another crucial point: since the FBI itself was the recipient of the document and may have used it in their own investigation, as well as for search warrants, the FBI and DOJ themselves have conflicts of interest and cannot investigate this. Nor (IMO) can Mueller, since his close personal ties to Comey and his staff’s financial support for Hillary’s campaign constitute obvious conflicts of interest.

This, my friends, is a fecal hurricane, Cat 3 and expected to rise.

ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, October 10

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

◆ Massive Wildfires across Northern California. Blazes in Sonoma’s wine country have not been contained(New York Times)

At least 10 dead so far, 1500 buildings destroyed.

Comment: There are other fires in Southern California. Together, they challenge the state’s ability to respond.

 Tennessee’s centrist Republican Senator, Bob Corker, doubles down on his accusations against Trump

The New York Times broke the news and did an in-depth interview with Corker, whose attacks on Trump are as personal as DJT’s angry tweets at Corker. The Times’ latest article is here.

Comment: Corker’s attacks are important for three reasons

  • First, according to NYT reporters, Corker’s criticisms are merely the public voice of what most Senate Republicans say. Steve Bannon has said the same thing: establishment Republicans hate Trump and want to sink his agenda.
  • Second, since the Democrats oppose every Trump legislative initiative, he only chance to pass legislation is to hold together a narrow Republican majority. Now, Corker and McCain seem determined to oppose Trump. Add Rand Paul, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski to that grouping and you fall well short of 50 votes. (And most legislation will require 60.)
  • Third, Corker, as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is privy to the highest-levels of US intel and diplomacy. He has recently said that Trump could be leading the US into World War III.

The husband-and-wife team indicted in the Democratic Congressional IT scandal have now turned on each other (Daily Caller)

The indicted husband-and-wife team of former IT aides to Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz sat directly across from each other at the defendants’ table in federal court Friday in Washington, D.C., but refused to look at each other.

Even as they are co-defendants in a U.S. case, Imran Awan’s own wife, Hina Alvi, has become the latest person to accuse him of fraud, filing papers against him in Pakistani court, according to Pakistani news channel ARY.

Awan, his wife and two brothers — all previously on the payroll of House Democrats — became subjects of a Capitol Police investigation last year after investigators concluded they were submitting falsified invoices for equipment and had transferred “massive” data off a House server. After he was banned from the House network, Awan left a laptop with the username RepDWS in a Capitol Hill phone booth.

Although The Washington Post has reported that investigators found that Awan and his relatives made unauthorized access to a congressional server 5,400 times, Wasserman Schultz has said concern about the matter was the stuff of the “right-wing media circus fringe.” –Daily Caller

Comment: Whenever the defendants turn on each other, the prosecution benefits.

What do we need to know?

  • Were the Democrats’ confidential information shared with outsiders, including foreign actors?
  • Why did Debbie Wasserman Schultz stick by her accused aide for so long? Did he have anything on her?
  • How deep and wide does this scandal go?

Comment #2: Mainstream media has shown zero interest in this massive scandal.

Today’s “WTF” story

Comment: No matter how fearsome your school’s mascot, I’m betting that “Radioactive Wild Boars” is scarier.

The University of Arkansas should really consider upgrading their Razorback symbol.

 

 

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ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, September 8

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

◆ We are enduring the hardest test of our lifetime for national-disaster response efforts.

Huge Hurricanes Back-to-Back and a Third Looming

The number of elderly in South Florida only compounds the potential tragedy.

Comment: So far, I have been impressed by 

  • The high quality of weather forecasts, often 4-5 days out
  • The learning by federal, state, and local authorities after Katrina
  • The much-greater competence of authorities in Texas than in Louisiana, in Houston than in NOLA, and in FEMA today than under Bush. (Granted, being more competent than NOLA officials is a very low bar.)
  • The exceptional contributions by volunteers in Texas. Here’s hoping for the same in Florida.
  • The absence of looting and other predation after Harvey. (Again, a welcome improvement over Katrina.)

Here’s hoping the worst weather forecasts don’t come true for Florida, the response is as effective as in Texas, and that the long-term recovery effort lets people rebuild their lives.

The hack of Equifax computers records is the most massive to date

It exposes sensitive personal data on 44% of the US population.

To compound the injury, several executives seem to have sold the company’s stock before the hack was publicly disclosed.

ZipDialog has a separate post on the mess (link here)

 Rules for dealing with  alleged sexual assault on campus to be rewritten by Department of Education 

The New York Times gets the basic story right (link here):

Saying that the Obama administration’s approach to policing campus sexual assault had “failed too many students,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on Thursday that her administration would rewrite the rules in an effort to protect both the victims of sexual assault and the accused.

Ms. DeVos did not say what changes she had in mind. But in a strongly worded speech, she made clear she believed that in an effort to protect victims, the previous administration had gone too far and forced colleges to adopt procedures that sometimes deprived accused students of their rights. –New York Times

Comment: The problem is their headline: “Betsy DeVos Says She Will Rewrite Rules on Campus Sex Assault”

She plans to rewrite the rules on allegations of campus sex assault.

The key word is “allegation.” That word is missing from the NYT headline.

The victims deserve thorough, fair investigations, with appropriately harsh penalties for sexual harassment and coercion when those have been proven. At the same time, the accused deserve through, fair investigations and a chance to present their side. The whole point of due process is to sort through the allegations.

◆ FIRE, the leading supporter of free speech on campus, uses this headline:

Education Department says it will finally confront its role in campus due process crisis (FIRE, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education)

◆ Competition in Artificial Intelligence: IBM invests $240 million in AI Research Lab with MIT (Forbes)

Forbes reports IBM is struggling in the area, competing against Google, Microsoft, and Facebook.

The lab will focus on areas like training AI algorithms that don’t require extensive supervision and exhaustive manual labeling of data. Right now, many deep learning systems require people to go through and label each piece of data — like, say, that’s a car in the image.

In hardware, the lab hopes to move beyond what’s popular in AI today — namely, graphics processors usually made by Nvidia — and start experimenting with processors that don’t rely on traditional chip designs, such as quantum computing, an area IBM has already been pursuing. –Forbes

Comment: This is another example of how US leadership in basic research in the physical and biological sciences pays off for the larger US economy. A glance at Kendall Square (next to MIT) and Silicon Valley’s close connection to Stanford reinforce this critical point.

While the Humanities sink into political advocacy, second-rate ideology, and irrelevance to most serious students, the sciences and empirical social sciences continue to advance.

The Debbie Wasserman Schultz scandal continues to unfold (Daily Caller)

The scandal centers on IT professional, Imran Awan, who (with family members) handled computers and software for lots of Democratic House members, led by DWS.

Awan was arrested trying to flee to his native Pakistan with significant cash. Federal prosecutors have brought some charges against him and expect to bring more.

Awan’s wife has already fled to Pakistan.

Because the family handled sensitive computer work for many Congressmen, they had access to all their computer files.

Most D’s fired them after the initial investigations turned up serious problems. DWS did not and actually pushed hard against investigators. We still don’t know why.

It is unclear whether sensitive information was stolen and perhaps sent to overseas entities, used for blackmail, etc.

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ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, March 11

Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
Linked articles in bold purple

◆ Comment: The Trump presidency will be in deep trouble if it cannot pass a repeal-and-replace bill.

Right now, the White House and Congressional leadership face real problems from the right in House (which doesn’t want to keep Obamacare’s big subsidies to the poor, locking in an entitlement) and centrist Republicans in the Senate (who fear they cannot be reelected in moderate states if they repeal these subsidies). Think: small fairway with a water hazard on the right and thick bushes on the left.

The House Freedom Caucus expresses principled opposition to entitlement expansion. Basically, they want repeal without replace. The members are all in safe districts that Trump won, so the members may be reluctant to oppose a president popular among their voters. It’s hard to know if these members can be pressured by Speaker Ryan and the White House to sell out their principles.

The moderate Senators are harder to pressure because they fear a wrong vote could cost them their seats. In the past, they could be coaxed by side-payments. That’s what Pres. Obama did with the “Cornhusker Kickback” and “Louisiana Purchase.” Those backfired and they won’t work this time.

This is sausage-making at its bloodiest. It’s not even clear the pig is dead yet.

 Michael Flynn, former NSC adviser, was paid to represent Turkish interests during the Trump campaign  (New York Times)

Comment: Although Turkey is a NATO member and the lobbying work was not illegal, it is stunning that he did not register as a “foreign agent” contemporaneously (he is only doing so now) and that the Trump vetting team didn’t catch this advance. He can’t say he forgot. The check was for $500k. It is a very good thing he’s already gone. 

 Top Democrats’ tech aide, now under criminal investigation, had access to their private emails, including DNC emails  The details are here. (Daily Caller)

Imran Awan — the lead suspect in a criminal probe into breaches of House of Representatives information security systems — possessed the password to an iPad used by then-Democratic National Committee Chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz when DNC emails were given to WikiLeaks. . . .

The FBI requested access to the DNC’s server to find out who was responsible, but the DNC refused, FBI Director James Comey said, according to The Hill.

Politico reported that New York Rep. Gregory “Meeks and, to a larger extent, Wasserman Schultz, are said to have a friendly personal relationship with Awan and his wife, according to multiple sources.”

House authorities set their sights on the Awans while investigating the existence of a secret server that was funneling congressional data off-site.

They also suspect Imran of stealing money and equipment. –Daily Caller

 Good News on Free Speech: Univ. of Chicago proposes ‘free speech deans’ to prevent disruptive conduct (Campus Reform)

The University of Chicago could soon implement new policies that would severely limit “those engaged in disruptive conduct” from preventing “others from speaking or being heard.”

A recently-released faculty committee report also suggests establishing “free speech deans-on-call” trained to “deal with disruptive conduct” in order to ensure students are not prevented from expressing themselves on campus. –Anthony Gockowski at Campus Reform

 

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ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, February 27

Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
Linked articles in bold purple

 The Democratic Party missed a bullet by saying “no” to Keith Ellison. That Tom Perez is considered a centrist, establishment figure tells you how far left the party has shifted under Obama.

The Washington Post has a piece on why Ellison lost, but, unfortunately, it is biased and incomplete. The piece, written by David Weigel, cites these elements:

  • Former Pres. Obama’s support for Perez and the party’s unwillingness to depart from Obama’s legacy
  • Perez’ success in minimizing the ideological space between him and Ellison
  • Common opposition to Trump lessened Democrats’ internal differences
  • A “persistent smear campaign cost Ellison votes”

In the final days of the campaign, Ellison’s harshest critics — including Alan Dershowitz, who donates to Democrats but is not particularly involved in the party — reemerged to smear the congressman’s record on Jewish issues. The National Jewish Congress put out fresh criticisms of Ellison, which Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), an Ellison supporter, publicly disputed. –David Weigel in the Washington Post

Comment: Weigel’s characterization of attacks on Ellison as a “smear campaign” is a good example of why the Post is accused of serious political bias. It richly deserves the characterization.

Even if you accept Ellison’s word that he has broken completely with Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, Ellison’s public record of anti-Semitic statements was bound to create problems. So was his record of harshly anti-Israeli rhetoric. Those may not matter in his Congressional district, but they would matter nationally.

Second, if the job of the DNC chair is to recruit strong local candidates and raise money for them–and that is exactly what the job is–then a candidate with Ellison’s background and record, plus his association with Bernie Sanders would be a death knell in many swing states. That’s why every Republican wanted him to win. Everyone. That’s why Republicans will point out that Ellison is now “Vice Chair” of the party. It is an honorific post, to be sure, but the Democrats have given it to someone who deserves no honor.

Perez does have one advantage as incoming chair. No matter how bad he is, he can’t be worse than Debbie Wasserman Schultz or Donna “Here are the secret questions, Hillary” Brazile. They are the face of entrenched Washington insider backscratching.

 Millennials having troubling getting into the housing market. When they are “ready to buy a home, the pickings are slim(Washington Post/Chicago Tribune)

Overall millennials are falling behind other generations in homeownership, with first-time home buyers, who usually consist of 40 percent of the market, stuck at 34 percent.

That could become damaging to this generation’s future prosperity. Housing experts say homeownership remains one of the primary ways for the middle class to build wealth, despite the ups and downs of the past decade. And with mortgage rates beginning to creep up, millennials who have to wait to buy could miss out on historically low rates. –Chicago Tribune

Comment: There are building cranes all over downtown Chicago, erecting housing. Almost all of it is rental, I’m told.

 Good news on millennials’ economic fortunes  The same article reports that many more are now in the workforce and that their wages are up sharply. Very good news, indeed.

As the economy has improved, so have millennials’ fortunes.

The most recent employment data shows that the percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds in the labor force is the largest in eight years. This group has also recently begun to enjoy stark wage gains. Recent census data showed that in 2015, millennials’ incomes jumped 7 percent, far more than most other groups’.

In a stronger financial position, more millennials are starting families. The census projects that household formation will average about 1.5 million per year through 2020, up from the 900,000 annual average in the past five years.

 The high cost of higher minimum wages: Wendy’s plans self-ordering kiosks at 1,000 locations by year-end  (WHIO)

Comment: This is not rocket-science: labor-saving devices are more attractive when wages are high.

The substitution of computers, artificial intelligence, and robotics will happen inexorably for low-skill jobs (and increasingly for cognitively-difficult jobs). Raising wages artificially only speeds the process. The biggest losers are those who need low-wage jobs the most. Those are people just starting out who lack other marketable skills and need to prove their competence and reliability so they can move up the wage scale.

 Ted Lowi has died. He was one of the most important scholars of American politics in the mid-20th century.  (New York Times) Originally from Gadsden, Alabama, he was a professor at Cornell for many years.

Comment: Ted was part of the Marks family, which founded my hometown in Mississippi. 

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