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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.

~ 3 ~

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.

~ 1 ~

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.

~ 0 ~

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.

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 .

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.]