Later On

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Archive for September 29th, 2017

Trump Could Save More Than $1 Billion Under His New Tax Plan

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Jesse Drucker and Nadja Popovich report in the NY Times:

President Trump could cut his tax bills by more than $1.1 billion, including saving tens of millions of dollars in a single year, under his proposed tax changes, a New York Times analysis has found. [Corruption consists of using a public office for private gain. Trump (and many around him) are corrupt in this sense. – LG]

On Wednesday, the White House announced a sweeping plan to cut a variety of taxes that would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy. The estimate of Mr. Trump’s savings is based in part on information from his 2005 federal tax return. The analysis compares what his tax burden would be under current law with what it would be under the proposal.

Mr. Trump’s 2005 return is the most recent available publicly and was released in March by David Cay Johnston on the website DCReport.org. The Times’s figure also relies on an estimate of Mr. Trump’s net worth, calculated by the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index to be $2.86 billion.

“I don’t benefit. I don’t benefit,” Mr. Trump said on Wednesday. “In fact, very, very strongly, as you see, I think there’s very little benefit for people of wealth.” [This is the standard Trump technique: simply lie. – LG]

In fact, high-income earners like Mr. Trump are likely to benefit disproportionately if the White House proposal becomes law. The estimates, calculated with the help of Robert Willens, an accounting expert, and Stephen Breitstone, a tax lawyer, provide a view into precisely how.

Savings of about $1.1 billion from repealing the estate tax

Though it would not be reflected on his income tax return, Mr. Trump’s proposal to eliminate the estate tax would generate the largest tax savings. If his assets — reportedly valued at $2.86 billion — were transferred after his death under today’s rules, his estate would be taxed at about 40 percent. Repealing the federal estate tax could save his family about $1.1 billion, though it could still be subject to New York estate taxes.

Savings of $31 million from repealing the alternative minimum tax

The decades-old alternative minimum tax is meant to prevent America’s wealthiest from using deductions to pay very low or no federal income tax. In 2005, it accounted for about 80 percent of Mr. Trump’s overall income tax payment. His plan to repeal the tax would save him $31.3 million.

Savings of about $16 million from taxing certain types of business income at 25 percent

Mr. Trump’s proposed changes could allow individuals to qualify for a significantly reduced tax rate of 25 percent on certain types of income they receive through business partnerships and similar entities. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2017 at 7:33 pm

In Colorado, a shocking case of prosecutorial abuse

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Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

The Colorado Independent lays out the facts in one of the worst examples of prosecutorial misconduct I’ve ever seen in a death penalty case.

The case was prosecuted for six years under former 18th Judicial District Attorney Carol Chambers. Brauchler, her elected successor, has led the office for the last five years as it has continued rallying to preserve [Sir Mario] Owens’ and other death sentences against a long list of appeals claims. Brauchler, a Republican who has made a name for himself as a death penalty prosecutor, is running for governor.

There is no definitive physical evidence, no confession, and no eyewitnesses who identified Owens in a case prosecutors built almost entirely on the testimony of informant witnesses to whom the DA’s office gave plea bargains, funds, or both in return for their cooperation against Owens.

Among the charges upon which the appeal was based is the office’s failure to disclose thousands of dollars in payments it made to informant witnesses. One of those witnesses was promised and later given a district attorney’s office car. Some were given gift cards for local businesses. One received $3,400 in benefits, including cash for Christmas presents in the months prior to testifying on behalf of the prosecution.

The defense cited the prosecution’s failure to disclose other incentives given to witnesses in exchange for their testimony. If he didn’t cooperate, court records show, one of the main witnesses was threatened with being charged for the murders Owens was accused of and with receiving two life sentences. Another witness, according to the records, received a suspension of his jail sentence on the condition that he help prosecutors in Owens’ case. People working for the prosecution would appear at informant witnesses’ court hearings and ask for lesser sentences on the condition that they testify against Owens, the records indicate. Records also show that informants who had been convicted of crimes were allowed to violate probation and commit future crimes without consequences as long as they cooperated.

The appeal argued that by failing to disclose these deals before trial, the prosecution rendered Owens’ defense lawyers unable to cast doubt on those witnesses’ testimonies and put their credibility in dispute. In doing so, the argument goes, Owens was denied a fair trial.

Incredibly, neither Chambers’s successor in the DA’s office (who is defending the conviction) nor the district court judge (who denied the appeal) dispute that informants were paid in cash, lenient sentences and other compensation, and that none of this was disclosed to the defense. And the case gets only more disturbing from there.

  • The withholding of exculpatory evidence continued through the new leadership in the DA’s office. The new DA kept the existing prosecutors on the case. In 2015, two years later, they revealed another file full of secret payments to eyewitnesses in the case.
  • For seven years after Owens filed his appeal, the courts imposed a gag order keeping the appeal secret. According to the Independent, to this day some exhibits are still secret.
  • The judge who oversaw the trial and appeals was apparently growing increasingly skeptical of the state’s case against Owens. That is, until he was abruptly fired by the state supreme court. The firing was apparently over a personnel matter, though the Independent article casts some doubt on that explanation.
  • The new judge ruled on Owens’s appeal “without having seen or heard from a single witness about errors in the capital proceedings.”

Then there is the matter of the original DA, Chambers. She has since left office, but she left quite the record. Among her greatest hits:

  • When the DNA profile for semen taken from a 8-year-old sexual assault victim didn’t match the man local authorities had arrested, Chambers offered a whopper of an explanation: “With the low-cut jeans that girls wear, she could have picked up anyone’s DNA off any surface her panties touched while they may have been riding up above her pants. I hate those low-cut pants,” Chambers said, according to the Denver Post. “Depending on how long she had been wearing those panties and where, they could have rubbed up against the back of her chair at school, a restaurant, the couch at home that someone else had been sitting on, a bus seat, someone’s toilet seat if she did not pull them down far enough — there are many ways to get unknown DNA on clothing. Another kid could have snapped the elastic on her underwear — kids do that sort of thing.”
  • In 2011, the Denver Post reported that Chambers had been offering “conviction bonuses” to prosecutors on her staff who hit her quotas.
  • The same year, Chambers was widely criticized for seeking felony arson charges against two young boys who started a house fire after playing with a lighter.
  • In 2006, she was investigated for allegedly threatening a man who was trying to collect a debt from one of Chambers’s political allies with a grand jury investigation.
  • In 2007, she was again investigated, this time for allegedly threatening a judge she felt ruled against her office one too many times.
  • At one point during her tenure, Chambers was responsible for nearly half the “habitual offender” prosecutions in Colorado, a designation that means a decade or more in prison for crimes that otherwise might earn a year or two at most.
  • Chambers’s office also faced allegations of hiding evidence in the death penalty trial of David Bueno. Those allegations were later upheld by a state appeals court.
  • . . . and in a sexual assault case.
  • After a jury acquitted an Ethiopian woman Chambers’s office had accused of human trafficking, the jury foreman told a local paper, ““In the DA’s office’s agenda to prosecute so overzealously, it seems that the facts of a case aren’t really an objective.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2017 at 6:45 pm

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

Zuckerberg’s Preposterous Defense of Facebook

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Zeynep Tufekci writes in the NY Times:

Responding to President Trump’s tweet this week that “Facebook was always anti-Trump,” Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, defended the company by noting that Mr. Trump’s opponents also criticize it — as having aided Mr. Trump. If everyone is upset with you, Mr. Zuckerberg suggested, you must be doing something right.

“Both sides are upset about ideas and content they don’t like,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “That’s what running a platform for all ideas looks like.”

This doesn’t hold water at all.

Are you bothered by fake news, systematic misinformation campaigns and Facebook “dark posts” — micro-targeted ads not visible to the public — aimed at African-Americans to discourage them from voting? You must be one of those people “upset about ideas” you disagree with.

Are you troubled when agents of a foreign power pose online as American Muslims and post incendiary content that right-wing commentators can cite as evidence that all American Muslims are sympathizers of terrorist groups like the Islamic State? Sounds like you can’t handle a healthy debate.

Does it bother you that Russian actors bought advertisements aimed at swing states to sow political discord during the 2016 presidential campaign, and that it took eight months after the election to uncover any of this? Well, the marketplace of ideas isn’t for everyone.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s preposterous defense of Facebook’s failure in the 2016 presidential campaign is a reminder of a structural asymmetry in American politics. It’s true that mainstream news outlets employ many liberals, and that this creates some systemic distortions in coverage (effects of trade policies on lower-income workers and the plight of rural America tend to be underreported, for example). But bias in the digital sphere is structurally different from that in mass media, and a lot more complicated than what programmers believe.

In a largely automated platform like Facebook, what matters most is not the political beliefs of the employees but the structures, algorithms and incentives they set up, as well as what oversight, if any, they employ to guard against deception, misinformation and illegitimate meddling. And the unfortunate truth is that by design, business model and algorithm, Facebook has made it easy for it to be weaponized to spread misinformation and fraudulent content. Sadly, this business model is also lucrative, especially during elections. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, called the 2016 election “a big deal in terms of ad spend” for the company, and it was. No wonder there has been increasing scrutiny of the platform.

However, at the slightest sign that Facebook might be pressured to institute at least some sensible oversight (as has happened recently in the German and French elections, when the platform mass-deleted fake accounts), right-wing groups and politicians can swiftly bring Facebook to its heels with charges of bias, because Facebook responds to such pressure as much of the traditional media do: by caving and hiding behind flimsy “there are two sides to everything” arguments.

This right-wing strategy has been used to pressure Facebook since before the presidential election. It was revealed in April 2016, for example, that Facebook was employing a small team of contractors to vet its “trending topics,” providing quality control such as weeding out blatant fake news. A single source from that team claimed it had censored right-wing content, and a conservative uproar ensued, led by organizations like Breitbart. Mr. Zuckerberg promptly convened an apologetic meeting with right-wing media personalities and other prominent conservatives to assure them the site was not biased against them.

Facebook got rid of those contractors, who were already too few for meaningful quality control. So what did it do to stem the obvious rise in the scale and scope of misinformation, fake news and even foreign state meddling on the site in the months leading up to the election? Clearly not enough — for fear, no doubt, that it would again be accused of bias.

Make no mistake: The flood of misinformation and fake news that went viral on the site was visible even to casual observers. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2017 at 5:52 pm

Without Fanfare, Equifax Makes Bankruptcy Change That Affects Hundreds of Thousands

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In ProPublica Paul Kiel reports an example of the usual lack of ethics exhibited by large corporations:

For what appears to be decades, the credit rating agency Equifax has quietly layered three more years of tarnish on the credit histories of hundreds of thousands of people who had filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 13.

While its competitors, TransUnion and Experian, placed a flag on such histories for seven years, Equifax left it on the reports of Chapter 13 filers who failed to complete their bankruptcy plans for 10.

After ProPublica asked about the difference in its policy, the company said it now leaves the flag on for seven years, but refused to say when and why the change was made.

The consequences of Equifax’s harsher policy were likely life-changing for some unlucky people. As Experian warns consumers on its website, “having a bankruptcy in your credit history will seriously affect your ability to obtain credit for as long as it remains on your report. It can also affect your ability to qualify for things like an apartment, utilities, and even employment. Even car insurance rates may be affected.” Without knowing why, consumers could have been turned down for apartments because landlords checked their Equifax report rather than those from Experian or TransUnion.

Why Equifax’s policy was different is unclear and the company would not address it. But that such a discrepancy had gone unnoticed and unaddressed for so long underscores how lightly regulated the industry is.

ProPublica contacted all of the major credit agencies earlier this year as part of our ongoing series on consumer bankruptcy. The policies of TransUnion and Experian were similar: People who filed under Chapter 7, which wipes out most debts, would have a flag on their report for 10 years; those who filed under Chapter 13, which usually involves five years of payments before debts are forgiven, would have a flag for seven.

Equifax had the same Chapter 7 policy. But the company had a key difference in its policy for Chapter 13 filers: Those who were unable to complete their five years of payments and had their cases dismissed were saddled with a flag for three additional years.

This difference had the potential for widespread impact. About half of Chapter 13 cases are dismissed, usually because debtors fall behind on payments. From 2008 through 2010, 574,000 Chapter 13 cases were filed and subsequently dismissed, according to our analysis of filings. Under Equifax’s policy of keeping the flag on for 10 years, all those debtors would have a flag on their Equifax report through the end of 2017, but not on their TransUnion and Experian histories.

“It’s a problem, because you have a disparate treatment of debtors depending on which credit rating agency is reporting,” said Tara Twomey, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center. “We really need consistent credit reporting for this system to work.”

Equifax’s policy also disproportionately affected black consumers, because, as our analysis showed, black debtors are more likely than whites to choose Chapter 13 and have their cases dismissed.

ProPublica wrote the company again in July, prior to its recent disclosure that its records had been hacked, laying out the potential impact of its policy on consumers and asking why it differed from competitors. In an email, Equifax spokeswoman Nancy Bistritz-Balkan wrote that the company had “recently modified the length of time for how long a dismissed Chapter 13 bankruptcy remains on file.” Under the new policy, she wrote, “Equifax removes the flag for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy after seven years, regardless of outcome.”

She would not say what “recently” meant, only saying, “The change we referenced was not implemented after we received your inquiry.” As to why Equifax made the change, she wrote, “At this time, I do not have additional details about how the change was made.”

It might seem puzzling that such a meaningful policy is not governed by law. While some aspects of credit reporting are, others are simply decided among the agencies themselves. Bankruptcy is a mix of the two. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the longest a bankruptcy can stay on someone’s credit report is 10 years. The credit rating agencies have voluntarily decided to treat Chapter 13 cases differently because Chapter 13 typically involves the repayment of some debt, while Chapter 7 does not. Bistritz-Balkan made a point of saying that Equifax’s previous policy had been legal.

Initially, Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 have a similar effect on debtors’ credit scores, one that diminishes over time. . .

Continue reading.

Note Ms. Bistritz-Balkan’s refusal to give the date of the change. I would bet large money that when she said, “The change we referenced was not implemented after we received your inquiry,” she was telling a baldfaced and shameless lie.

The credit companies should be closely regulated and regularly audited.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2017 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Stop Beating Up on the Jones Act

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Chris Landers offers some insight into the Jones Act at CityLab.com:

Over the past several days, opponents of President Trump’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico zeroed in on his unwillingness to lift the Jones Act, a 1920 maritime law that regulates U.S. shipping. After some hurried Googling of the Wilson Administration, the media joined in this chorus. Called variously ”obscure,” “anachronistic,”and “archaic,” the Jones Act has been blamed for hindering hurricane recovery by preventing foreign vessels from joining in relief efforts, jacking up the cost of desperately needed essentials on the island, and benefiting large American shipping companies at the expense of citizens, an impression Trump did nothing to dispel when he told reporters on Wednesday that there were “a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted.”

Bowing to a rising ride of Twitter indignation, this morning the president authorized a temporary waiver. Here’s the thing though: The Jones Act does not deserve your outrage.

It’s debatable whether more ships would help the situation in Puerto RicoCNN is reporting that goods are piling up on the dock waiting for trucks—but in any event no one in the shipping industry really objects to lifting these restrictions during an emergency, as Trump did after hurricanes Harvey and Irma. As Brian Schoeneman, legislative director for the Seafarers International Union, recently told Congress, maritime labor has never opposed a temporary Jones Act waiver, but “any long-term waiver of the Jones Act would undermine the entire purpose of the law and could jeopardize the future existence of the Merchant Marine.”

The danger of using the Jones Act as a cudgel against an unpopular president is that the overheated rhetoric loses sight of the real reasons for the law.

The Jones Act is, at heart, a labor act. It protects the rights of sailors in the U.S. Merchant Marine from being exploited the way their counterparts abroad often are. And it’s been in the sights of Republican Senator John McCain for a long time—he most recently tried to kill it in July.

Under the Jones Act, a maritime employer is responsible for providing a safe environment for its workers, as well as paying for any medical care. It requires U.S. Coast Guard-approved safety equipment and lifeboats, trained and licensed crew, and adherence to EPA regulations. That stuff isn’t cheap, but it protects workers in an industry that’s legendary for its exploitation of sailors. “In the past 15 years the Jones Act has been sidelined by some federal courts in favor the enforcement of arbitration agreements,” KCRW found in its 2016 investigation into the safety of Filipino seafarers. ”Some injuries, negligence and wage dispute cases that would have been litigated in a courtroom are now being heard in private arbitration hearings all over the world, where the compensation can be a fraction of what may be granted by a U.S. jury.”
From the linked article:

Ben Buenaventura, a career waiter with Norwegian Cruise Line, suffered catastrophic injuries on July 20, 2016 during a safety drill. A lifeboat davit fell on top of him and his co-worker, who died immediately. Buenaventura spent a month in ICU in Miami before dying on Aug. 27, 2016. Under Philippine arbitration system, his widow—also a cruise ship worker—is entitled to roughly $60,000 USD. She cannot sue for negligence or wrongful death against NCL under the terms set forth by the Philippine government.

Vessels operate by the laws of the state whose flag they fly, which is why so-called “flag of convenience” nations like Liberia are so popular among owners, and why they have such a terrible reputation among sailors. Any added expense to shipping under the Jones Act comes for the same reason Chinese manufactured goods are cheaper than American made—we have labor laws.

McCain’s objections are free-trade-based—part of the act stipulates that goods can’t be shipped between U.S. ports by foreign-flagged vessels. So while foreign companies can and do ship directly to Puerto Rico, any cargo from the U.S. has to come on American ships. It’s possible, though unproven, that this raises the costs of goods to the island, and that argument is gaining traction as the Jones Act faces scrutiny from the left as a sign of Trump’s inaction. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2017 at 10:49 am

Tom Price gets 95% discount on the taxpayer-funded travel he’s paying back

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James Hohmann reports in the Washington Post:

THE BIG IDEA: Bowing to pressure from Republicans on Capitol Hill and public criticism from President Trump, Tom Price announced Thursday that he will partially reimburse the government for the costs of his flights on charter planes in recent months.

The Health and Human Services secretary is writing a check for $51,887 to the Treasury Department. He said he will no longer take private charters at taxpayer expense and plans to cooperate with the HHS inspector general, who last week launched an investigation into his travel practices.

The optics here are terrible. Price took a $25,000 charter flight from Dulles to Philadelphia when a round-trip train ticket would have cost $72. The government also paid for a private jet to whisk Price to a resort in Georgia where he owns land and to Nashville, where he lunched with his son.

— It came out last night that Price also used military aircraft for trips to Africa and Europe this spring, and to Asia in the summer, at a cost of more than $500,000 to taxpayers. Politico, which broke that story, notes that the reimbursements do not cover any military planes: “The overseas trips bring the total cost to taxpayers of Price’s travels to more than $1 million since May. … Price’s wife, Betty, accompanied him on the military flights, while other members of the secretary’s delegation flew commercially to Europe. … But one of Price’s recent predecessors, Kathleen Sebelius, who served for five years under President Barack Obama, said she never took a military plane on her many trips overseas; she always flew commercially.” . . .

Continue reading.

See also Bess Levin’s article in Vanity Fair, “Tom Price will reimburse taxpayers for (a fraction of the cost) of those private flights.”

And Kevin Drum blogs:

Here’s the latest:

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke chartered a flight from Las Vegas to near his home in Montana this summer aboard a plane owned by oil-and-gas executives, internal documents show….The flight cost taxpayers $12,375, according to an Interior Department spokeswoman. Commercial airlines run daily flights between the two airports and charge as little as $300.

So that makes four: Mnuchin, Price, Pruitt, and Zinke. The Trumpies have developed a real taste for private jet travel on the taxpayers’ dime, haven’t they?

“Draining the swamp” seems not to actually mean “draining the swamp.”

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2017 at 8:51 am

Rooney butterscotch Emilion, Creed Green Irish Tweed, and the RazoRock Old Type

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Little by little we settle in. Still have much unpacking to accomplish, but at least I now have some variety in shaving.

The Emilion made a great lather, thanks in part to the soft water but the contribution of Creed’s Green Irish Tweed soap should not be minimized. Three passes with the Old Type, one of my favorite razors, left a face totally smooth, to which I applied a small splash of Green Irish Tweed EDT.

More unpacking today.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2017 at 8:42 am

Posted in Shaving

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