Photo: Pavan Trikutam via Unsplash

Three Things: The Reanimation of Nixon Among Them

Busy, busy week. Load up on the caffeine or stimulant of choice and let’s get cracking.

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At 9:00 pm EST Saturday evening I posted:

Any time now I expect someone in the administration will not only say openly that Trump authorized the transition team to discuss dropping the sanctions, but that it isn’t illegal when the president does it.

This morning about 6:00 am EST in Axios:

John Dowd, President Trump’s outside lawyer, outlined to me a new and highly controversial defense/theory in the Russia probe: A president cannot be guilty of obstruction of justice.

The “President cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case,” Dowd claims. (emphasis mine)

It’s like they dug up Nixon and reanimated him with a chatbot. No wonder the White House is infested with mice and insects.

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The Tax Scam Bill isn’t yet legislation; we still have at least a couple chances to kill it. It will be up for a vote in the House today, under a Motion to Go to Conference. Call your representatives well before 6:00 p.m. and ask them to vote NO on going to conference. This bill should simply not proceed any further.

Did you know those GOP jackasses in the Senate actually added a tax on retail gift cards? If your employer gives your a grocery store gift card to buy a holiday ham, you could be taxed on it. If you tip your child’s caregiver with a retail gift card they could be taxed on it. What is wrong with these Dickensian jerks?

I’m not the only one who thought of Scrooge when Old Man Orrin Hatch complained about poor children who relied on CHIP health care, saying ““I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves – won’t lift a finger – and expect the federal government to do everything.”

By the way, it was Hatch who added the retail gift card tax. Leave no meal to a poor child untaxed.

Need a little help with that phone call to your rep? See @Celeste_pewter — she’s got you covered.

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Folks in Nevada need to take a cluestick to Senator Dean Heller after his execrable public townhall this weekend. His security goon squad first threatened a Stage 4 cancer patient, then threw her out along with an elderly woman with a broken arm. At least 10 attendees were ejected.

There’s video.

There are tweets.

There’s no escaping how bad the optics were; Heller wants this Tax Scam Bill for his oligarchic sponsors so badly he’ll step on the sick, injured, and elderly to get it. And then Heller doubled down on his monstrousness when asked if he’d read the Tax Scam Bill, tweeting, “Read it? I helped write it!”

It’s on you, Heller. This is your legacy. You said it, you wrote it.

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Our celebration of emptywheel’s 10th anniversary continues. Watch for a post by Jim White midday today; Marcy is working on a super-sized post on all things surveillance. Stay tuned!

And if you can pitch in some rodent chow to keep the site’s squirrels on their treadmill, we’d appreciate it greatly.

This is an open thread — your off-topic comments are welcomed in this thread. Let’s kick some ass and take names this Monday morning.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Three Things: No, No, and Hell to the NO on the Tax Bill [UPDATED]

NB: Update at the bottom of this post.

I don’t have three things. I just have three (or more) layers of pure rage about the so-called tax reform bill now returned to the Senate floor.

There is not one good thing about this bill. Nothing, nada, zippo, nil. How anyone could possibly think adding $1 trillion to the deficit — ostensibly to raid Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in the near future — is a positive is simply beyond my grasp.

And yet Senate Republicans are willing to set fire to the economy, torch people’s health care, wreak ruin upon academia and research, just to stay on their donors’ good side.

Super-wealthy donors are extorting performance from the GOP by withholding donations until they get their tax cuts. They are literally demanding the GOP obtains campaign contributions from the lowest and middle classes by increasing taxes or reducing benefits and transferring the funding to the uppermost class which does not need it but will instead convert the tax cuts to campaign contributions.

If these corrupt GOP senators continue blindly supporting this tax bill, they will stem consumption by the true engine of economic growth while encouraging greater anger across the largest percentage of citizens. I am reminded of the economic troubles in Germany before the 1929 market crash, the following wave of mass unemployment and a banking crisis leading to domination of National Socialism.

We know how that turned out.

This is an open thread. Bring your tax bill rage and off-topic stuff here.

UPDATE — 4:45 PM EST —

Looks like Senate GOP has been inundated with lobbyists’ requests for favors (read: quid pro quos for future donations) now being tacked onto the tax bill without any final draft bill available for reading by either the Senate or the public. Totally corrupt bunch of hacks.

As @Celeste_pewter says, keep calling; even if Sen. ‘Turtlehead’ McConnell says the GOP has 51 votes, they still need to get through conference committee. Congressional switchboard is (202) 224-3121. Here’s a script for your use.

Thanks to Sen. Ron Wyden who continues to fight for the individual mandate.

Boos and rotten tomatoes to Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who sold out for rather meager tidbits — state/local tax write-offs for Collins, and drilling more oil for Murkowski. The cost to constituents’ health and financial well-being is a lousy trade-off .

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Trumpnami 2 by Rayne for Emptywheel.net

Jared’s Flynn ‘Surfing’, Election Day to Present

Quite a bit has been written about the Senate Judiciary Committee’s request last week asking Jared Kushner’s attorney Abe Lowell for “missing” documents omitted from his client’s previously requested document production. Didn’t anybody find odd the time range Senators Feinstein and Grassley specified in the letter, asking for all communications to, from, or copied to Lt. General Michael Flynn?

Here’s an excerpt from the November 16 letter; note the bit underlined in red:

From election day last year to the present.

To the present.

Has Jared Kushner — or other(s) copying both Kushner and Flynn — still been in direct communication with Michael Flynn all this time, even after Flynn resigned in February? Even after it looked like he was being investigated by Mueller? Even after it looked like Kushner himself was under scrutiny by both Mueller and Congress?

Does the Senate Judiciary Committee think Kushner’s trying to build a defense case on “I’m too stupid to be a criminal!” based on his sloppy surfing over their document requests?

Or is Kushner so confident his daddy-in-law can pardon him that he isn’t even bothering to hide his ongoing relationships with co-conspirators or his obstruction — and just keeps surfing on by?

Worse, does this range suggest the Senate Judiciary Committee believes Kushner has been actively using a backchannel to communicate with others under investigation, including Russian contacts and Michael Flynn?

And does the range suggest Kushner may have been communicating with Flynn even while out of the country — perhaps even during his recent unannounced wee-hours pajama party in Saudi Arabia with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman while they talked ‘strategy’?

This is an open thread. Bring your off-topic discussions here.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Graphic: Quino Al via Unsplash (mod by Rayne)

Three Things: Take Action on Tax Bill, Net Neutrality, and a Courtroom Virgin

There’s a lot of crappy stuff going on, but three things need your urgent attention and action: Tax cuts for wealthy, net neutrality, and an unqualified federal judicial appointment.

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So-called Tax Reform Legislation

Tax cuts for people who don’t need them and won’t even feel them, paid for by the people who can least afford them — it’s a recipe for disaster. If Putin wanted to damage our economy he couldn’t have done a better job in one go. I could rant all day about the stupidity required to believe trickle-down or supply-side economics work, but this wealthy dude does a succinct job. As he says it’s a trickle-down lie; this bill is simply a wealth transfer from the lower deciles to the upper deciles.

You can also bone up by reading this Forbes article, and this Forbes article, and hello, another Forbes article.

This is a nightmare in the making which will tank our economy and literally threaten American lives by reducing access to healthcare. The only real driver behind this bill is extortion — the GOP’s biggest donors have threatened to shut their wallets if they don’t get their tax cuts, and GOP members of Congress are too fucking weak to tell them to pound sand.

Go ahead, selfish billionaires, primary GOP incumbents. You think you can rustle up more sycophantic (and pedophilic) candidates like Roy Moore and still retain control of the House and Senate in 2018, even if you suppress the vote? Hah.

More than half this country struggles to scrape up enough cash to pay for an emergency, like a car repair or a broken appliance, and the GOP thinks increasing their taxes and undermining their health care will magically make the economy better?

And now the kicker: Alaska’s Senator Murkowski, who has been a champion for health care, just agreed to support the repeal of the individual mandate included in this tax bill. The stupid, it burns. Or perhaps it’s some ill-considered kickback burning its way through Murkowski’s cred.

Here’s a script for your use, provided by the ever-helpful @celeste_pewter. Call Congress’ switchboard at (202) 221-3121 or look for your senators’ closest in-state office and leave a message there — all senators are home this week.

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FCC Chair Ajit Pai’s Blowjob for ISPs

It’s really far more than a blowjob and it’s definitely obscene. Allowing ISPs to discriminate against bits in the pipe by throttling, blocking, or additional charges to further their agenda is absolutely unacceptable. There’s far too much at risk, beginning with the end of moderately priced internet. Some industries will be damaged — filmmakers, for example, already have problems with releasing films across the U.S. over the internet, as users do not have the same quality of network. Streaming providers like Netflix will also experience problems; angry users will blame them for poor service, when it may be the ISP throttling them. Marketplace’s Molly Wood does a pretty good job reviewing the problems with Pai’s proposed changes and the challenges with the existing regulatory framework.

Let’s be frank: your porn will be affected, too, as removing net neutrality means ISPs can audit the content you request and block/throttle/demand more to release it, or strong arm you into using their brand of porn using a combination of price differentiation and delivery constraints.

And then there’s the issue of Pai’s handling of comments on this change, which New York’s AG Eric Schneiderman has been investigating — little cooperation with Schneiderman to date and a decision made based on a manipulated feedback process — all suggest the FCC is taking illegitimate action.

So, so shady. Ajit Pai should never have been approved by this Congress as FCC chair; Congress needs to reign in his overreach by legislating net neutrality. Could the existing FCC regulations be improved? Sure, but Pai’s proposal does nothing of the sort — Congress should address this.

ACLU’s prepared a short-and-sweet script for you use. Use the ACLU’s call routing through their website, or call Congress’ switchboard at(202) 221-3121.

@Celeste_pewter offers more detailed script with a more thorough ask at this link.

Also via miracle worker @celeste_pewter, here’s a script for writing to Ajit Pai at FCC. Please personalize your message — don’t just cut-and-paste. Take a stand.

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Incredibly Wretched Judicial Nominee Talley

What. The. Fuck? I can’t even begin to explain how awful a nominee Brett Talley is; he should never have been allowed to get this far. Read up on their hideousness here. How can the Senate Judiciary Committee think for a moment that ghost-hunting,White-House-lawyer-married, ABA-‘unqualified’, courtroom-virgin Talley, is well qualified for a lifetime appointment? This is a complete rejection of the Senate’s power to advise and consent.

Call your senators at (202) 221-3121 or their home state offices and ask them to vote NO on Talley, deny their consent. We can and must do better with these lifetime appointments. Need a script? Once again, Celeste is on top of it.

In my opinion, the Senate should refuse to approve any more judiciary nominees before the 2018 election. Talley is the latest of four Trump nominees the ABA found ‘unqualified’. If somebody is drafting articles of impeachment, these nominees should be cited as an example of Trump’s failure to faithfully execute this country’s laws.

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There’s so much more that’s wrong, like the lack of funding and inadequate labor for Puerto Rico and California wildfire recovery, Puerto Rico’s Medicaid funding, another horribly qualified nominee for U.S. Census, attacks on the DREAM/DACA/SECURE Acts, or the lapse of CHIP putting the health of NINE MILLION AMERICAN CHILDREN at risk. But the three issues listed above are the ones which will have the greatest affect on the largest number of Americans.

If you have Republican legislators, your calls are even more important, though Democratic and Independent legislators do need to hear from you so they can validate their resistance. Call your elected representatives pronto — don’t take this crap without a fight. Get out in front of these turkeys.

This is an open thread. Bring your comments here which are off topic in other threads, thanks.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

[US Oil Fund ETF via Google Finance]

The Curious Timing of Kushner’s visit to KSA and the U.S.’ EITI Exit

Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner — he of the shaky memory and a massive debt in need of refinancing — met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman within the same week the U.S. withdrew from an anti-corruption effort and Saudi Arabia cracked down on corruption. What curious timing.

Let’s look at a short timeline of key events:

Tuesday 24-OCT-2017 — Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman helms a three-day business development conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, referred to as “Davos in the desert.” Attendees include large investment banks as well as fund representatives; one of the key topics is the impending IPO for Saudi Aramco.

Wednesday 25-OCT-2017 — Jared Kushner departed for an unpublicized meeting with government officials in Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday 25-OCT-2017 — Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker traveled separately from Kushner to participate in bilateral discussions, which included the memorandum of understanding with the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC). The U.S. and Saudi Arabia chair the TFTC while Gulf States form its membership.

Friday 27-OCT-2017 — Reports emerged that at least one Trump campaign team will be indicted on Monday.

Monday 30-OCT-2017 — Jared Kushner met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, discussing strategy until 4:00 am. News reports didn’t indicate when exactly Kushner arrived or when discussions began. (Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, George Papadopolous were indicted this day, but not Kushner; good thing “excellent guy” Papadopolous as a former Trump campaign “energy and oil consultant” wasn’t involved in Kushner’s work with Saudi Arabia, that we know of.)

Thursday 02-NOV-2017 — U.S. Office of Natural Resources Revenue sent a letter to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a multinational effort to reduce corruption by increasing transparency around payments made by fossil fuel companies to foreign governments. The U.S. had been an implementing member since 2014.

Saturday 04-NOV-2017 — At 7:49 am EDT, Trump tweets,

“Would very much appreciate Saudi Arabia doing their IPO of Aramco with the New York Stock Exchange. Important to the United States!”

Saturday 04-NOV-2017 — (approximately 5:00 pm EDT, midnight Riyadh local time) At least 10 Saudi princes and dozens of government ministers were arrested and detained under what has been reported as an anti-corruption initiative. Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, a critic of Trump and a tech industry investor of note, was among those arrested this weekend.

Saturday 04-NOV-2017 — At 11:12 pm EDT Reuters reported Trump said he had spoken with King Salman bin Abdulaziz about listing Saudi Aramco on the NYSE. The IPO is expected to be the largest offering ever.

But wait…there are some much earlier events which should be inserted in this timeline:

Friday 03-FEB-2017 — Using the Congressional Review Act to fast track their effort, Senate passes a joint resolution already approved by the house, disproving the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Rule 13q-1, which implemented Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Section 1504, the bipartisan product of former senator Richard Lugar and Sen. Ben Cardin (now ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee),

“…a public company that qualified as a “resource extraction issuer” would have been required to publicly disclose in an annual report on Form SD information relating to any single “payment” or series of related “payments” made by the issuer, its subsidiaries or controlled entities of $100,000 or more during the fiscal year covered by the Form SD to a “foreign government” or the U.S. Federal government for the “commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals” on a “project”-by-“project” basis. Resource extraction issuers were not required to comply with the rule until their first fiscal year ending on or after September 30, 2018 and their first report on Form SD was not due until 150 days after such fiscal year end.” (source: National Law Review)

Section 1504 and SEC rule 13q-1 enacted the U.S.’ participation in the EITI’s anti-corruption effort.

Monday 13-FEB-2017 — Trump signed the disproving resolution. (Probably just another coincidence that Michael Flynn resigned this day as National Security Adviser.)

From the earliest days of this administration, both the Trump White House and the GOP-led Congress have been ensuring that extractive industries including oil companies will not be accountable for taxes, fees, and other miscellaneous payments (read: dark money donations and bribes, the latter being a bone of contention to Trump) paid to foreign governments.

Some of the immediate beneficiaries are Exxon Mobil, for which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson used to work, and the Koch brothers, among U.S. oil companies which claimed additional reporting requirements under Rule 13q-1 would make them less competitive with overseas oil producers.

What’s not yet clear: How is this reduced openness supposed to help track financing of terrorism, which Treasury was supposed to be working on?

What of transparency related to arms deals involving Saudi money or Aramco? What of transactions between U.S. oil companies and other foreign companies involved in deals with Russian fossil fuel firms like Gazprom?

Can Trump, Jared Kushner, their family and minions, and members of Congress profit from this increased lack of transparency?

What happens to the U.S. and global economy when oil prices rise without adequate transparency to the market to explain price increases?

Also not yet clear: what happened to the 19.5% stake in Rosneft sold last year, allegedly bought by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund and Glencore (the same Glencore now embroiled in Paradise Papers scandal)? This massive chunk of Russia’s largest oil company has increased in value in tandem with crude oil’s rise, especially since the Saudi crackdown on Saturday. What’s to keep this massive amount of Rosneft shares from being laundered through stock markets as Deutsche Bank did between 2011 and 2015?

It’s all just so curious, the unanswered questions, the odd timing: Aided and abetted by GOP-led Congress, Trump pulls out of an anti-corruption initiative while Treasury Department appears to work on anti-corruption, and Kushner meets on the sly with the Saudi crown prince just days before an anti-corruption crackdown.

Hmm.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

M&M Mars Candy, Trump and The Estate Tax Giveaway

[Ed Note: This is a guest post by our tax law expert friend Bob Lord. It is a particularized abject story of exactly what kind of interests are pushing the Trump “Tax Cuts” agenda, why, and how ridiculously corrupt and insulting to the 99.5% of America the effort really is.]

The Mars family has made billions selling us M&Ms, Snickers, and countless other Halloween treats for a century now. But when it comes to paying tax, the Mars family seems to be all tricks and no treats.

In fact, the family’s latest tax trick may have cost the U.S. Treasury a whopping $10 billion. What could $10 billion do? That’s the cost of delivering prenatal care to hundreds of thousands of expectant moms under Medicaid, an essential program that President Trump and the GOP Congress plan to cut by up to $1 trillion.

According to the current U.S. tax code, any American worth $25 billion can expect 40 percent of that, or $10 billion, to go to Uncle Sam in estate tax, the federal levy on the personal fortunes of deep pockets who kick the bucket. Forrest Mars Jr. had a $25-billion fortune when he died in July 2016. But the Mars family has apparently been able to avoid estate tax on that entire $25 billion.

How do we know? Researchers at Forbes and Bloomberg, the two business publications that track America’s billionaire wealth, have some fascinating numbers for us.

Forest Jr. and his two siblings started 2016 with personal fortunes in the vicinity of $25 billion. Now if Forrest’s fortune had been subject to a significant estate tax after he passed on, the collective wealth of his four daughters in 2017 would be substantially less than that $25 billion.

The just-released 2017 Forbes list of America’s 400 richest shows otherwise. Forbes puts the wealth of each of Forest’s four daughters at $6.3 billion, for a total of $25.2 billion. That’s almost identical to the 2017 fortunes of their Aunt Jacqueline and their Uncle John, each at $25.5 billion. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index reports similar numbers.

Should any of this surprise us? Not really. We’re seeing Mars family history repeat itself. Eighteen years ago, Forrest Mars Sr., the original Mars family billionaire, died. The Forbes 400 lists from the years surrounding 1999 show that the Mars family lost no wealth to estate tax back then either.

But the Mars family must at least be paying oodles of income tax, right? Nope. How could that be? This particular tax-avoidance story starts over a century ago, when Frank Mars incorporated his candy business.

Back then, the value of the stock in Mars Inc. had only minimal value. But over the years the stock appreciated considerably in value. By 1988, that appreciation had made the Mars family the wealthiest clan in America. The Mars billionaires still rank as one of America’s wealthiest families, in no small part because none of the gains in the value of the family’s Mars stock have ever been subject to income tax.

Is the Mars family content with its current level of tax savings? Apparently not. The family has joined with 17 other billionaire families and collectively spent $500 million lobbying Congress for reduced taxes on billionaires and the companies they run.

These companies face corporate income tax on their profits. Mars, Inc. has had to pay these taxes over the years. Unlike Mars family members as individuals, the Mars company hasn’t been able to sidestep its tax bills. But the Mars and other billionaire families have found a friend in President Trump and the current Republican-led Congress. The pending Trump-GOP tax plan would take a meat axe to corporate tax rates.

The resulting corporate tax savings, if this plan gets adopted, will likely translate into a multi-billion-dollar tax savings for Mars, Inc. — and a corresponding bump in the net worth of Mars family members.

The real prize for the Mars in the Trump tax plan? That may be in the elimination of the estate tax that the Trump White House is now pushing. Wait, what? How would the repeal of the federal estate tax help a family that’s already avoiding the estate tax?

For America’s ultra-wealthy, repealing the estate tax turns out to be more about the federal income than the federal estate tax. As Mars family history makes painfully clear, tax avoidance vehicles available under current law allow even billionaires to zero out their estate tax.

But billionaires, under current law, do pay an appreciable income tax price for their estate tax avoidance. Assets on which estate tax is avoided carry an offsetting income tax disadvantage. That disadvantage would vanish in a simple estate tax repeal.

What does that mean? Let’s say we have a billionaire who paid $10 million for stock now worth $100 million and does nothing to avoid estate tax on that stock The billionaire never has to pay income tax on that gain. Those who inherit that stock from the billionaire’s taxable estate can sell it for $100 million and not pay any income tax on the gain either.

But if that billionaire stashed that stock into a trust to avoid estate tax, he would forfeit that income tax advantage. The untaxed gain associated with the stock would be passed to the trust beneficiaries. These beneficiaries would face an income tax on the previously untaxed gain when they sell the stock.

If the Trump-GOP estate tax repeal takes the same final form as the estate tax repeal bill introduced in the House of Representatives in 2015, wealthy Americans will get to have it both ways: zero estate tax and the elimination of any untaxed gain at death.

And that would allow the next generation of Mars family members to avoid income tax on over a century’s worth of economic gain. Quite a trick, huh?

So enjoy the candy, America. The Mars family will keep the cash.

Happy Halloween!

[Robert J. Lord, a tax lawyer in Phoenix, Arizona and former Congressional candidate, is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.]

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

[graphic: Hurricane Maria, 20SEP2017, via NASA GOES]

Three Things: Was Slow Response to Hurricane Maria Deliberate?

NB: First, a call to action at the bottom — come back and read this after you’ve read the call. Don’t let last night’s tragedy swamp effective action; Congress continues its work no matter what tragedies befall the rest of us.

Having worked in both site and systems administration with responsibility for business continuity, I can’t help wonder why the post-hurricane response to Puerto Rico’s devastation was so bad — so bad it looks deliberate.

~ 3 ~

As an administrator, I looked ahead a year or more to mitigate both costs and risks to my employer and stakeholders. Budget roof repairs expenses for this year, budget roof replacement capital next year; replace the analog alarm system with digital system, budgeted last year. It’s pretty dull stuff but all it takes is one break-in, or one bad storm, and the losses from damage and business disruption could easily surpass capital and expense budgets combined.

But what of states and territories? State/territory, local and federal governments do what they can within the plodding framework of legislation, regulation, and budgetary requirements and restraints. Sometimes things just can’t be addressed preemptively, like major storms. Fortunately, there’s adequate monitoring to help predict when they will hit and what the likely impact will be, and there’s the awesome power of the largest military in the world to deploy as needed.

We have monitoring like NASA’s GOES satellite imaging, which visually tracked Hurricane Maria from birth to death as a weakened tropical storm.

And NOAA’s Hurricane Center, which makes accurate assessments of timing and strength of a storm’s impact.

Not to mention whatever additional monitoring and reporting the Defense Department had to offer.

We know with certainty the U.S. government was aware from NASA and NOAA reporting that Maria was a Category 5 storm as it approached Puerto Rico. The National Hurricane Center issued 17 reports over four days warning of the storm’s size, strength, and timing of landfall. I can’t imagine government agencies offering any less now than they did under the last administration.

And yet the Trump White House did virtually nothing to prepare for storm response.

You’d think that a guy with experience managing real estate and businesses for continuity would have utilized these best-on-earth notifications to mitigate and recover injury and damage to Puerto Rican Americans and their property. But for some reason this same guy now occupying the White House spent his time harping about NFL players and golfing instead.

~ 2 ~

This tweet thread crossed my timeline last week; I wondered who leaked and why there was so little followup, because the claim it makes is quite serious. (Click to expand the thread in Twitter.)

If this claim is accurate, the Trump White House sat on its tiny mittens and did absolutely nothing to approve a response to a major catastrophe which was expected with a very high degree of certainty to devastate an American territory home to ~3.5 million citizens.

If this happened five days AFTER landfall, was nothing done by the White House BEFORE Maria made landfall?

It’s not as if taking proactive action was difficult, either. I am certain government agencies and the Defense Department were ready to move with plans they’ve had prepared for some time, tweaked for this particular event. All it would take is a simple verbal Yes to proceed.

Or an executive order which we all know this White House can produce like so much facial tissue.

~ 1-a ~

All the monitoring and reporting provided to the White House, from NOAA and NASA to Defense Department, was budgeted and authorized by Congress for the purposes of serving American citizens. The public expects a level of performance for the taxes they pay; monitoring and reporting on weather and risks from weather are but part of their expectations.

American citizens expect and pay for their government to deliver effective and timely response when their domestic tranquility and general welfare are disrupted, whether nation-state or weather- and climate-based threats. They do not expect to be left without clean water, no minimum shelter, no emergency health care, let alone an empty wallet depleted by taxation which paid for common defense they didn’t receive.

Why have Puerto Rican Americans not received the same level of government responsiveness and services their fellow citizens have received post-hurricane Harvey and Irma?

Why can’t we get a straight answer about the White House’s planning in response to Hurricane Maria two to three days after landfall? Is it because the lack of any response is as bad as the lack of preparation — utterly missing, perhaps deliberately so?

At some point this isn’t about the White House and its executive function. It’s about Congress which has failed to ensure the executive knows exactly what is expected of it and what action should be nearly automatic from the executive office.

Oh, but that’s too much legislation, conservatives will say. No — it’s inadequate existing legislation which has incorrectly assumed for too long a competent manager will execute U.S. laws. It’s too many sick, injured, dying, dead Americans in the wake of ineffective governance.

And it’s inadequate action on the part of Congress to tolerate an incompetent executive.

To be concise, more than one branch of government failed Americans.

And those branches now have blood on their hands.

Do something about this before more Americans die. Do more than hold a hearing.

~ 1-b ~

By the way, FEMA’s Brock Long has proven himself an idiot. He should be given the boot.

An under-funded agency could land two rovers successfully on Mars and operate them for years to conduct research, but humanitarian response to a predicted hurricane utilizing the largest standing military on earth is too complicated? Fuck that.

And fuck this guy — I don’t even know who this pasty slack-handed suit is, but he can take his lies and shove them sideways. The storm did NOT cause you and your co-workers to be idiots and liars, boy.

~ 0 ~

Call to Action: Congress continues to work on bills regardless of the tragedy in Las Vegas or the growing catastophic death toll in Puerto Rico. Your efforts helped kill the last ACA repeal attempt formerly known as Graham-Cassidy. These are our next challenges.

CHIP expired at midnight Saturday night. Congress left for the weekend allowing health care funding for 9 million American children to expire. Not much better than President Cheeto going golfing while ignoring Puerto Rico. Call your representatives and demand CHIP funding be addressed immediately. Script for the Wyden-Hatch bipartisan CHIP bill here — note also you may need to call your state officials as well.

Net Neutrality is back on the bubble. FCC chair Ajit Pai has consistently attacked it throughout his brief tenure, sucking up to the telecom industry while ignoring the public’s best interests. Call your representatives and demand net neutrality be assured by voting NO on another five-year term for Pai as chair. Script for your call here. VOTE IS SCHEDULED TODAY — HURRY. Get a leg on this before AT&T persuades the Supreme Court to wade in.

Guns on schedule this week: a bill to approve the sale of gun silencers. Las Vegas’s mass shooting last night should be proof enough that “hearing protection” for shooters is the last thing Congress should worry about. The bill also allows the sale of armor-piercing ammunition. Hell, no. Script for your House rep, and script for your Senators.

A vote to make abortion illegal at 20 weeks on tap tomorrow. No. No freaking way. You may not like abortion, but read this piece — imagine the emotional and physical horror for a woman and her family as she is forced by law to carry a non-viable fetus to term. This decision should be between her, her partner, and her doctor. Make the call.

Congress’ switchboard number is (202) 224-3121. Don’t be like the guy in the White House when you can see action is needed.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Three *More* Things: Tarsmacked, Shuffled and Screwed?

I resent all to hell that we are forking over a metric crap ton of tax dollars every weekend for his Golden Golf Hackness to hang out at one of his courses. This weekend, though, I’d make an exception — and of course, he drags his feet getting out of town, making trouble on the way.

~ 3 ~

You’ve no doubt heard that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus resigned or quit, depending on which source you read and when. Scuttlebutt says Trump was pissed that Priebus didn’t push back at Scaramucci after the profanity-laced interview with Ryan Lizza. Other scuttlebutt says Scaramucci is actually Jared and Ivanka’s minion; he’s so vulgar and cold he fits in anywhere in Team Trump. So bloody hard to keep the players straight; where’s self-sucking Bannon in all this?

Anyhow, apparently His Imminently Golf Hackness tweeted his pink slip from the door of Air Force One.

And Priebusly-of-West-Wing was left on the tarmac without a ride.

Jesus Christ, how mother freaking cold and rude, the only guy who really kept Trump looking like a legitimate member of the GOP, tossed like an empty KFC bag.

Priebus, who is rumored to be the only staffer who didn’t sign one of Team Trump’s non-disclosure agreements, hasn’t figured out he doesn’t have to suck up any longer.

I hate that these sloppy mean girls occupying the White House make me feel sorry for that schmuck Priebus.

~ 2 ~

And His Imminently Golf Hackness nominated current DHS director John Kelly as the new White House chief of staff.

Kelly has peeved off some senators; I supposed taking on role of chief fly swatter will be nothing in comparison to his failure to disclose his relationship to military contractors.

Rumor: Kelly is being moved to CoS to make way for Sessions as DHS director, which in turn leaves the AG’s position open for a new nominee willing to fire Mueller.

Oh hell, no.

~ 1 ~

Latest buzz is that McCain’s vote YES on the Motion to Proceed earlier in week set up the actual failure of H.R. 1628 Health Care Freedom Act vote last night.

The analysis was posted at Reddit, of all places.

… The thing is, the Senate can only consider one budget reconciliation bill per topic per year. Of course, if the bill dies in committee and never comes to an official vote, it doesn’t count- which is why they’ve been able to keep hammering away at the issue.

This bill, though, was allowed to come to the Senate floor, because the Republicans thought they’d secured the votes. Collins, Murkowski and the Democrats would vote no, everyone else would vote yes, and Pence would break the tie. And then McCain completely fucked them. And it was almost certainly a calculated move; he voted to allow the bill to come to the floor. Had McCain allowed it to die in committee, McConnell could have come back with yet another repeal bill; but he let it come to a vote, and now they can’t consider another budget reconciliation bill for the rest of the fiscal year. The Senate needs 60 votes to pass any kind of healthcare reform now. …

Which opens up a whole mess of questions if this is really what happened…

Did John McCain plan to screw Trumpcare by himself, or was this staged to save the Senate GOP caucus face as I speculated earlier today?

If he had help staging this, who else was in on it? “Yertle” McConnell, who is acting pouty and butt-hurt? If McConnell was in on it, then he deserved a nomination for an acting award.

And was this a final Fuck You to Heel-Spurs-in-Chief, who disrespected McCain’s service and time as a POW?

I can’t help it; I hope it was payback. And I hope this buys more time to build real fixes for ACA until a Democratic majority can take back Congress.

UPDATE — 12:11 P.M. EDT —
Yep, too good to be true. @Celeste_P says nope. Maverick wasn’t super-maverick after all. It was fun to imagine while the illusion lasted.

~ 0 ~

It’s the weekend, finally. Hope somebody is lost longer than usual in the rough. Open bar, open thread. Behave and drive safely.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Three Things: In the Debris Field After Health Care ‘Freedom’ Act

I still don’t have enough caffeine in my system and it’s nearly noon here. An entire pot of java may do the trick. As I rouse and read the hot takes after the failure of H.R. 1628 last night, a few thoughts stick with me.

~ 3 ~

All the think pieces — most written by white men lauding John McCain’s maverick move by departing from the party line — are evidence ‘the show’ worked.
McCain called it that when asked before the vote last night which way he was going. “Watch the show,” he said.

Meanwhile, the two women senators who have been firm all along they couldn’t vote for a bill causing damage to their constituents receive far fewer plaudits from the same mostly-white-male pundit class. Murkowski had been threatened by the Interior Secretary at Trump’s request. I haven’t heard for certain, but I’ll bet Collins received threats as well, probably from Trump-supporting constituents.

McCain won’t get those kinds of threats. He made his point last night about the power he wields within GOP Senate caucus as the final A/B switch on legislation. But the GOP Senate already knew this.

What McCain did was give the GOP a face-saving way to vote for a piece of shit they didn’t want to pass, without the repercussions Collins and Murkowski (and at varying times, Heller and Capito) have faced for rejecting a POS bill.

This is why they waited until the last goddamned minute to draft a meager eight-pages, slapping in some egregious stuff to ensure Collins and Murkowski couldn’t vote, adding the 20% annual premium increase as a coup de grace.

Because McCain would do the maverick kabuki for them, slap on his mask and robes, make big gestures and kill the bill for them.

And it worked not only because all the white male pundit class got suckered by their usual privileged blindness, but the white male Tweeter-in-Chief bought it, hook, line, sinker. He blamed all the Democrats and three GOP senators. All the other senators are off the hook.

Bonus: McCain’s legacy is salvaged with the patriarchal punditry.

Great ‘show’, maverick.

~ 2 ~

Scaramucci is nothing more than a highly-animated automaton on a stage; nothing he says is real. Why? Because the real communications are being run out of house by Steve Bannon, and likely in violation of federal law.

What is it and to whom is Bannon really communicating for the White House?
This operation may be in violation of the Antideficiency Act, but is it also in violation of the Presidential Records Act? What about any other regulations regarding FOIA?

Don’t believe me about Scaramucci’s role? Take a look at your news feed and point to any announcement about his firing or resignation. You know damned well had a communications director acted like he has under any other previous administration he’d have been walked out the White House’s fence.

p.s. Some say Scaramucci’s lowering discourse. Come the fuck on. He talks the way all of Wall Street’s white males do. The misogynist crack about Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ appearance? Par for the course.

~ 1 ~

Recommended lunch hour read for you: a book review by Andrew Bacevich in London Review of Books on The General v. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War by H.W. Brands. Bacevich’s background here.

Putting this book on my shopping list after this review, given how much power Trump has given and is likely to give to the military, breaking with civilian control.

~ 0 ~

That’s it for now. I’m stewing on something else but it’ll be dedicated and not an open thread like this one. Hasta pasta.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

[Photo by Piron Guillaume via Unsplash]

Three Things: #KillTheBill, Kill It Dead, Die Already [UPDATED]

[UPDATE at end] Following the Senate today has been like watching an impeding train wreck. The track’s out just ahead, the conductor knows it, as do all the rest of the crew aboard. Not one of them has the smarts or spine to stop this crazy train.

So while this post was supposed to be about three things, it’s really all just one: the abject failure of Congressional Republicans to fashion effective health care legislation which meets their oath of office by calming the public’s worries to insure domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense against illness and injury, and promoting the general welfare through improved health.

~ 3 ~

Anthony Scaramucci was hired to be a circus act, a distraction from whatever the White House is trying to get away with. Clearly he’s good at that. Screw that. I’ve muted his name on Twitter; you’ll be surprised what you see when you do the same across your social media and news feeds.

~ 2 ~

This, from the rally on Capitol Hill tonight:

It’s this simple. Congress’ health care plan is America’s health care plan. Strip away everything else, start from the ground up, fund it, legislate and launch it.
But sadly the party leading Congress is incapable of vision. Get some, stat.

By the way, for you anti-Democratic Party folks: the Senate Dems are solidly unified behind killing all iterations of Repeal-and-Replace, and tonight, the ‘skinny repeal’. There are no defections. They are willing to work on a good faith bipartisan solution which fixes the ACA’s challenges. Senate GOP could meet them on this, but no — scoring a political win is more important to them than doing the right thing by the American public.

~ 1 ~

If you want to stay on top of this, here are a few key accounts on Twitter:

Andy Slavitt (see his summary of tonight’s expected Senate action on Trumpcare)

Adam Jentleson

Ben Wikler

Ben Jacobs at The Guardian

Right now the Senate is headed toward a vote around 2:00-3:00 a.m. on a bill for which is no text or a CBO score. Paul Ryan will follow suit as soon as possible, no matter what bullshit you hear about not wanting the so-called ‘skinny repeal’. They are doing this in the middle of the night to hide from the public, literally on a Friday late in summer which in the past has been news dump zone. It’s a fraud, a total sham.

~ 0 ~

That’s it. Call Congress now — start with your senators, then your representative. The life you save may be your own. (202) 224-3121 or (855) 712-7845.

UPDATE — 10:35 P.M. EDT —

All eight pages of the ‘skinny repeal’ bill have now been posted.

EIGHT. FUCKING. PAGES.

Read them here.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.