Friday, December 29, 2017

THE DAILY SHOW - Philando Castile Verdict (looking back)

The Truth About the Philando Castile Verdict 6/21/2017

After dashcam footage of Philando Castile's police shooting is released, Trevor breaks down America's unconscious bias against African Americans.

In America, even a jury of you peers will OK a police shooting of a man because he's black.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

ATTORNEY GENERAL - Duty to Protect a President, NO

Regarding Donald Trump's apparent belief that the Attorney General should protect the President:  No.

RUSSIA FILES - Spammer Ties 4/10/2017 (Reminder)

Spammer's Arrest Eyed For Donald Trump-Russia Ties

Rachel Maddow reports on the latest developments in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the possibility of coordination with the Donald Trump campaign, including the arrest of a Russian hacker in Spain.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

INTERVIEW - Prince Harry With President Obama 2017

Prince Harry Interview Barack Obama on How He Felt During Trump Inauguration


Monday, December 25, 2017

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 12/22/2017

"Shields and Brooks on how politics of 2017 will affect 2018" PBS NewsHour 12/22/2017


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the GOP tax bill signed into law, the things lawmakers didn’t accomplish before the end of the year and what it will mean for the 2018 midterm elections, plus David and Mark share whom they would give holiday gifts to this year.

Judy Woodruff (NewsHour):  And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, welcome.

Three days before Christmas, Congress has just gone home.  David, the President says this tax bill that they passed is a great gift for the American people.  He said today corporations are going wild over this.  They’re showering their employees with bonuses.

But the polls show people are still skeptical.  What are people to make of this?

David Brooks, New York Times:  Yes.

Well, I have not been a big fan of this tax bill for a whole number of reasons, one of which I think was revealed today.  When you look at all the intricacies of it, not all the big things, little changes that could have vast effects on American societies.

For example, we have got the health insurance system, the employer-based health system because of some minor change during World War II.  This has all sorts of minor things.  Because we had no hearings, because we had no expert review, and no time to actually look at what’s in the bill, it has dozens of that kind of minor changes that could have massive effects.

For example, we could all — it doesn’t make sense to work for a company anymore, when you can declare yourself a corporation and pay the corporate rate.  And so that could just have massive effects of the economy.

So it’s actually kind of hard to know what the effects of this tax bill will be, because I think most of them are unintended.

Judy Woodruff:  So, are people scratching their heads, Mark, or are they worried?  What do you see?

Mark Shields, syndicated columnist:  People have concluded, at least strong initial judgment, Judy, that it is a bill that favors corporations and favors the very well-off.

And that is a conclusion.  As Peter Hart, the pollster says, when a negative judgment is formed, it’s very difficult to overcome that.  And that is the perception.

Most people don’t have the option of declaring themselves corporations.  That comes to a level of affluence and influence not available to most American families.

And I think what David cited is a good example.

David Brooks:  Yes.  I would say one thing.  I don’t think it is going to be a political loser for the Republicans.

Judy Woodruff:  You don’t?

David Brooks:  Because 80 percent of the country does — or tax units, does get a break out of it of varying sizes.

Some people will get pretty significant breaks.  If you have a kid or a couple of kids, the child deductible tax credit, it doubles and it becomes refundable, so you actually get a check in the mail.  And a lot of people are going to be seeing that.  And a lot of people are going to be surprised to see that.

So I don’t think it will be the total loser that it looks now.  I think now the polling, people don’t know what’s in the tax bill.  They just don’t like Trump.  He’s associated with it.  They get the Republicans favor the rich.

But this bill is — you spend a trillion-and-a-half dollars, you can give a lot of money away.

Judy Woodruff:  So, Mark, you…


Judy Woodruff:  Go ahead.

Mark Shields:  In 1986, which was an employer tax reform bill, Ronald Reagan, passed the Senate 74-23, passed the House 296-132, bipartisan, overwhelmingly, and popular.

And President Reagan refused to sign anything that wasn’t deficit-neutral, and, Judy, historic.  And that year, 1986, the Republicans lost control of the Senate, lost nine Senate seats.  Democrats increased their majority in the House.

It is a — in 1981, after President Reagan signed his then historic first tax cut, the same thing.  The Republicans suffered.

David’s point is that they get a couple more bucks.  I get 20 bucks more or 30 bucks more in my check.  But I’m going to be regaled and inundated with stories of millionaires walking away, of special interests, of Wall Street getting it.  And it becomes very relative.  I’m starting to feel duped, because all of these wealthy people are getting windfalls.

David Brooks:  Yes.

I think the Republicans are going to do very bad in the midterm, but not because of the tax bill.

Mark Shields:  OK.

David Brooks:  And there are lot — in ’86, it was revenue-neutral.  In ’81, there was a recession.  Now times are economically good.

Mark Shields:  That’s right.

David Brooks:  So you can vote on a lot of things.  In general, when you run up big deficits and give away — back money to people, they like it.  And people like me say, hey, you should worry about the deficits or you should worry about the distribution effects.

That’s just never been, I think, my experience of how people respond to it.  They say, hey, I got some money back.

TELEVISION - Best of 2017

"The best, bingeable shows 2017 had to offer" PBS NewsHour 12/22/2017


SUMMARY:  If you’re planning a little TV binge-watching this holiday, there are plenty of great shows from the past year to catch up on.  Eric Deggans of NPR and Jen Chaney of Vulture join Jeffrey Brown to offer their top picks of 2017 for best TV and streaming shows.

TRUMP AGENDA- 'Kidnapping' Toddlers

aka "The Inhumanity of Immigration Policy"

"Migrant seeking asylum says his toddler was taken away at the U.S. border" PBS NewsHour 12/22/2017


SUMMARY:  At least four Central American men in this California detention facility say U.S. immigration officials took their children after they arrived at the border, asking for asylum.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement says the agency separated the children for their safety, because the men didn't have enough proof they were the fathers.  Special correspondent Jean Guerrero of KPBS in San Diego reports.

NEWSHOUR BOOKSHELF - "The Doomsday Machine"

"‘Doomsday Machine’ author Daniel Ellsberg says Americans have escaped self-annihilation by luck" PBS NewsHour 12/21/2017


SUMMARY:  The military analyst turned whistleblower who leaked the Pentagon Papers looks at the existential threat of America’s nuclear capacities in his new memoir, “The Doomsday Machine."  Very little has changed, says author Daniel Ellsberg, when it comes to what he calls the immoral and insane policies regarding nuclear weapons.  William Brangham sits down with Ellsberg to discuss the looming danger.

MAKING SEN$E - What's the Beef?

"Should plant-based meat replace beef completely?" PBS NewsHour 12/21/2017

IMHO:  I've tried these 'plant-based' (aka fake) burgers.  Sorry, they don't even come close to In-n-Out.


SUMMARY:  What’s the beef with beef?  As plant-based meat startups try to chop the meat from our diets, beef is seen as bad for the land, air and the body.  But that’s not the full story.  Economics correspondent Paul Solman takes a closer look at the costs, pros and cons of our obsession with the mighty bovine.

BROADWAY - "The Band's Visit"

"In Broadway’s ‘The Band’s Visit,’ mistranslation leads to musical connection" PBS NewsHour 12/20/2017


SUMMARY:  When the members of an Egyptian band arrive in an Israeli city for a performance, it's clear something is wrong -- they've gotten the name wrong and ended up in a sleepy desert town.  That's the premise of a new musical, "The Band's Visit," that's connecting with audiences and critics alike.  Jeffrey Brown reports.

SCIENCE - The Battle Over Fact vs Politics

"In 2017, politics overshadowed science and scientists fought back" PBS NewsHour 12/20/2017


SUMMARY:  Scientists taking to the streets, enormous icebergs rupturing, a solar eclipse that captured the nation's attention, and new insights into the workings of the universe.  2017 has been quite a year in science.  Science correspondent Miles O’Brien joins William Brangham to look back and add some context.

HEATH - Where You Live Matters

"Giving poor families more choices in where to live can greatly improve health" PBS NewsHour 12/20/2017


SUMMARY:  When low-income Americans are concentrated in substandard homes in struggling or violent neighborhoods, it has tangible consequences for well-being.  Research confirms that moving families into less segregated neighborhoods improves overall health, and some communities are giving families vouchers to relocate.  Special correspondent Sarah Varney of Kaiser Health News reports.

EDUCATION - Vision for Baltimore

"What happens to learning when students get much-needed glasses" PBS NewsHour 12/19/2017


SUMMARY:  Good vision care is a luxury for families who can’t easily afford the time or money spent getting a child’s first pair of glasses.  But a new program called "Vision for Baltimore" called provides eye exams and two pairs of glasses to every student who needs them, totally free of charge -- a simple thing that can dramatically improve the quality of their education.  William Brangham reports.

NEWSHOUR SHARES - Patrice Banks on 'Auto Airheads'

"This female-operated auto shop puts women in the driver’s seat of their own repairs" PBS NewsHour 12/19/2017


SUMMARY:  In our NewsHour Shares moment of the day, Patrice Banks used to get uncomfortable taking her car to the mechanic.  But following a successful career as an engineer, she decided to revolutionize the industry with her own take on the classic car shop by catering to the market’s number one customer, women.

TRUMP AGENDA - Gaging Health Choices

A "March to Theocracy" report.

"Impact of ‘global gag rule’ goes beyond abortion for these health groups in Kenya" PBS NewsHour 12/19/2017


SUMMARY:  The so-called global gag rule, which cuts off some U.S. government aid to health agencies that offer or mention abortion services, has been reinstated by every Republican president going back to Reagan.  But the Trump administration has gone much further, cutting all funding to groups that offer vital health care services in places like Kenya.  Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has the story.

GOP TAX BILL - Old/Failed 'Trickle Down' Religion

"The surprising winners and losers of the latest GOP tax bill" PBS NewsHour 12/18/2017


SUMMARY:  Who benefits most from the latest GOP tax plan?  Who won -- and who lost -- in the last-minute changes?  With the House poised to pass its tax bill on Tuesday, Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to analyze its impact and some of the surprising details inside.

"Tax cuts alone won’t answer U.S. economic needs, Bloomberg says" PBS NewsHour 12/18/2017


SUMMARY:  Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City and billionaire investor and business owner, wrote a column this week calling the tax bill a “trillion-dollar blunder."  He tells Judy Woodruff why he thinks Congress and President Donald Trump put politics ahead of true tax reform.

"Sweeping GOP bill set to revamp U.S. tax code, slash corporate rate" PBS NewsHour 12/19/2017

aka "Coming of United States of America Inc."


SUMMARY:  For Republican lawmakers, it's a day to celebrate.  Cheers went up as the GOP tax overhaul received House passage, signaling the end of a legislative sprint to get the bill wrapped up by Christmas.  Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss what ended up in the bill, a minor snag in the Senate, plus the prospects for passing a federal funding bill and avoiding a government shutdown.

The spin......

"U.S. needs to be a ‘little bit patient’ to see robust economic growth from the GOP tax plan, says Thune" PBS NewsHour 12/19/2017


SUMMARY:  After a year in the majority marked by several legislative speed bumps and dead ends, Republicans are happy with the final tax bill that's poised to pass, according to Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)  Judy Woodruff asks Thune about the long-term tax increase for the middle class, doubts that the tax cuts will spur the kind of growth predicted by the GOP plan and concerns about a ballooning deficit.

Killing the ACA by the back door.....

"The GOP tax bill deals a blow to the Affordable Care Act.  Here’s how" PBS NewsHour 12/20/2017


SUMMARY:  The sweeping tax bill passed by Congress on Wednesday extends beyond what you file with the IRS.  It also affects American health care by repealing Obamacare's [ACA] so-called individual mandate.  John Yang learns more from Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News about that and other health care matters on Congress’ agenda.

The uncharitable Republicans......

"Charities fear GOP tax overhaul will dry up donations.  Here’s how" PBS NewsHour 12/21/2017


SUMMARY:  Charities are concerned that the GOP tax overhaul disincentives giving.  By doubling the standard deduction, fewer people may end up itemizing deductions, meaning fewer would take the charitable tax break.  Judy Woodruff learns more from Stacy Palmer of The Chronicle of Philanthropy about the effects and gets advice from people who want to give.

Marry Christmas

Marry Christmas to one and all

Friday, December 22, 2017

TRUMP - The Grinch That is Stealing America's Soul

"Donald Trump’s Holiday Gift to America: A Fundamental Crisis" by David Corn, Mother Jones 12/20/2017

In a commencement speech years ago, author David Foster Wallace told this story: Two young fish are swimming along, and they pass an older fish swimming the other way.  The older fish says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?”  The two young fish swim on for a while.  Then one looks at the other and says, “What the hell is water?”  Wallace noted the point of the story was that “the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about."  And that may describe American politics at the moment.  President Donald Trump has brought about a profound crisis that is undermining the nation’s democratic system, and it is so pervasive and encompassing that it is not being fully acknowledged.  It is the water. 

The crisis is not rooted in Trump’s advocacy of conservative policies—the Muslim ban, tax breaks for the wealthy, hollowing out the State Department, killing climate change action.  Nor is it triggered by his rude and classless behavior, as he spends long hours watching cable news, consuming Diet Coke, and rushing to Twitter to attend to petty grievances, instead of working diligently to advance the interests of the citizenry.  The country can survive bad policies and an immature and erratic commander in chief (unless, of course, his recklessness leads to nuclear war).  What the United States faces this holiday season is an unparalleled, widespread, Trump-inspired assault on the principles, norms, and purpose of democratic governance.

Creeping authoritarianism, creeping autocracy, creeping kleptocracy—call it what you want.  But the creep has turned into a sprint.  The offenses to good government and fundamental values are happening each day, often several times a day—and in such a fusillade that there is often not enough time to ponder the horrendous implications of each one.  And not enough space to consider the fundamental deterioration under way.  Another aquatic metaphor: We are too busy being slammed by what’s coming out of the fire hose to see the water damage that is being done.

In recent days—like any set of recent days—the outrages have been many.  During a phone call with Vladimir Putin, Trump, according to a White House “readout,” thanked the Russian leader “for acknowledging America’s strong economic performance in his annual press conference.”  And they discussed working together to “resolve the very dangerous situation in North Korea.”  Apparently they spoke not a word about Russia’s attack on the United States during the 2016 campaign.  Which seems to be the pattern.  Since Trump took office, there has not been a single sign he has pressed Putin regarding Moscow’s operation to subvert American democracy.  And as a much-noticed Washington Post piece pointed out, Trump has throughout the last year adamantly refused to accept the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia engaged in information warfare to help him win the Presidency—and has taken no measures to prevent a rerun.  So here we have an American President abdicating—out of pique—his most fundamental obligation: to protect the nation from foreign attack.  And his party colleagues barely bat an eye at Trump’s negligence.

If a dogcatcher refused to catch dogs, he would be deemed unfit for the position.  But Trump has abdicated the top responsibility of the commander in chief, and this does not scandalize the congressional majority.  The Constitution awards power to the President so he can safeguard the nation.  Trump uses this power to safeguard his own power.

Trump’s reckless disregard for norms and rules has been embraced by his champions and foot soldiers.  Claiming to be a law-and-order sort of guy, he has viciously attacked law enforcement that might affect him and his cronies.  Angered by the ongoing FBI investigation of the Trump-Russia scandal, he claimed the bureau is “in tatters."  And Fox News, a for-profit state news organ, dutifully puts on air a conservative activist who compares the current FBI to the KGB and essentially calls for the entire bureau to be shut down.  (About a year ago, Trump equated the US intelligence community with Nazi Germany.Others, on and off Fox, cheer for Trump to become a strongman leader who readily dispatches his perceived enemies.  Though Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, Trump’s minions still rally to the cry of “Lock Her Up” and demonstrate their belief that extremism in the name of defending Trump is no vice.  It’s not just party over country; it’s Trump over party over country.

Trump and his comrades regularly assault the institutions of government that can impose a check on a President.  Trump dismissed FBI chief James Comey in an attempt to protect himself.  And Trump’s congressional allies in the past weeks have intensified their criticisms of special counsel Robert Mueller, devoting far more vitriol to his investigation than to Putin’s secret war on a US election.  The same folks who were fine with over a dozen Benghazi inquiries now look to undermine a duly authorized probe—led by a Republican!—that threatens to reveal truths inconvenient for the President.  And they are eager to shutter or distract the congressional investigations that are supposed to deliver to the public the truth about the 2016 campaign.  These GOPers are joining Trump in embracing political power instead of principle and, like the President, making it easier for a foreign foe to assault the United States and then escape consequences.  This is a violation of their oath of office, and they don’t care.

Meanwhile, special interests run amok on Capitol Hill, writing a tax bill that is jammed through Congress without true and serious deliberation.  There is a recklessness driving this process that is encouraged by Trump.  Debate, discourse, expertise—none of it matters.  All that counts is raw power.  There is no respect for orderly and thoughtful consideration.  Citizen participation is of no significance.  The rich win in this huge, bottom-to-top wealth transfer, as corporate lobbyists wield more influence than economic experts and members of the minority party.  The tax bill will directly reward legislators pushing for it—and Trump and his family.  (A reminder: Trump still has not followed a decades-old practice of Presidential candidates and Presidents releasing their tax returns.)  And Ivanka Trump complains that the Democrats just don’t have the guts to join in the pillaging.  This is absolute and raw class warfare.  And as tax breaks are awarded to the well-heeled, the Children’s Health Insurance Program withers and millions of young Americans lose access to medical care.  Arrogance is in the air.  The driving message: We can do this…because we can.

There is much else going on that tears at the fabric of decent and honest government.  Ethics guidelines are routinely and casually flouted by Trump officials (and relatives).  The message is clear: rules are for others.  Inexperienced people are placed in important jobs (and judgeships), and entire departments are hollowed out.  Agencies are instructed to ignore science and facts—meaning, reality.  The goal is obvious: diminish the reputation of government and its ability to serve the public.  The swamp has grown deeper and wider.

The Christmas lights are shining, but these are dark days.  Trump’s list of legislative accomplishments is short.  His coattails are also short at the moment.  But his malicious soul has spread through the executive branch he commands, infected the judicial branch he fills, and captured the party that controls the legislative branch.  And this soul does not recognize the fundamental values that are supposed to guide the government: accountability and public interest.  His basic view is evident: l’état, c’est Trump.  And too many people in his party have accepted this and enabled him. 

If Trump tries to fire Mueller or orders a reckless attack on North Korea, it will be obvious that a crisis is at hand.  But a (relatively) quiet crisis has taken hold: Trump and his comrades are seeking to empower themselves and supplanting national priorities with self-serving and self-enriching ones, while delegitimizing those components of government they cannot use for their own ends or that would check their own prerogatives.  This corrosion is happening bit by bit every day—as the flashpoint outrages (that is, Trump’s tweets) come and go at hyper-speed and suck up our collective attention.  David Foster Wallace’s fish may not be able to tell they are swimming within water.  But if that water becomes polluted and depleted of oxygen, at some point they damn well will notice.  Trump has poisoned the civic sphere of America, and this crisis will continue to deepen until his contagion is widely viewed as what it is: a threat to the nation.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

TRUMP - King of Whoppers

"The Whoppers of 2017" by Eugene Kiely, Lori Robertson, Robert Farley, and D'Angelo Gore - 12/20/2017


We first dubbed President Donald Trump, then just a candidate, as “King of Whoppers” in our annual roundup of notable false claims for 2015.

He dominated our list that year – and again in 2016 – but there was still plenty of room for others.

This year?  The takeover is complete.

In his first year as President, Trump used his bully pulpit and Twitter account to fuel conspiracy theories, level unsubstantiated accusations and issue easily debunked boasts about his accomplishments.

And a chorus of administration officials helped in spreading his falsehoods.

Trump complained — without a shred of evidence — that massive voter fraud cost him the 2016 popular vote.  He doubled down by creating the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity and appointing a vice chairman who falsely claimed to have “proof” that Democrats stole a U.S. Senate seat in New Hampshire.

Even as he mobilized the federal government to ferret out Democratic voter fraud, Trump refused to accept the U.S. intelligence community’s consensus finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign.

Trump disparaged the “so-called ‘Russian hacking’” as a “hoax” and a “phony Russian Witch Hunt,” and compared the conduct of U.S. intelligence agencies to “Nazi Germany.”  He then falsely accused the “dishonest” news media of making it “sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community.”

When he spoke of himself, Trump’s boastfulness went far beyond the facts.

He claimed that his inaugural crowd “went all the way back to the Washington Monument,” and sent out his press secretary to declare it the “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”  He described his tax plan as the “biggest tax cut in the history of our country,” and took credit for making the U.S. nuclear arsenal “far stronger and more powerful than ever” after seven months on the job.  None of that was true.

Trump is clearly an outlier.  If he and his aides were removed from our list, we would be left with a dozen or more notable falsehoods roughly equally distributed between the two parties.  You’ll find those at the end of this very long list.

Forgive us for the length.  But consider this: It could be even longer.

(And for a short summary on the highlights, see our video on six of these claims.)


The Russia Investigation

Two weeks before Trump took the oath of office, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified intelligence report that described an “influence campaign” ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 2016 election.

The report said, among other things, that Russian intelligence services hacked into computers at the Democratic National Committee and gave the hacked material to WikiLeaks and other outlets to publicize in an effort “to help President-elect Trump’s election chances.”

A day after the report came out, Trump declared on Twitter that the intelligence community “stated very strongly that there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results.”  Not so.  The report specifically stated that the intelligence community “did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”

This would be one in a long line of false, misleading or unsubstantiated statements by Trump and his aides this year about the ongoing federal investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians.

There is evidence of contacts between Trump aides and Russian representatives during the campaign, as documented in our timeline, but the question of collusion remains unresolved.

To date, two Trump aides — former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos — have pleaded guilty to giving false statements to the FBI.  Two other Trump campaign aides — Paul Manafort and Rick Gates — were indicted on money laundering and tax evasion charges related to their work for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine prior to the 2016 election.

Here are some of the false and unsubstantiated claims that Trump and his aides made about the Russia investigation:
  • In a March 4 tweetstorm, Trump called it a “fact” that “Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!”  Trump offered no evidence of what he equated to “Nixon/Watergate” crimes.  Then-FBI Director James Comey told the House intelligence committee on March 20 that the FBI and Justice Department had “no information that supports those tweets.”
  • Two days after Comey’s testimony, Trump doubled down by claiming the House intelligence committee chairman “just got … new information” (during a meeting at the White House) that proved he was “right” about Obama wiretapping his phones.  There’s still no evidence of that.
  • When asked in July to give a definitive “yes or no” answer if he believes Russia interfered with the election, Trump said, “I think it could very well have been Russia but I think it could very well have been other countries.” There is no evidence that other countries were involved.
  • Trump tweeted in May that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper “reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows – there is ‘no evidence’ of collusion w/ Russia and Trump.”  Clapper didn’t say that.  Clapper said he had no such information “at the time,” meaning before he left office in January.
  • The White House issued a statement on May 9 saying the President fired Comey as FBI director “based on the clear recommendations” of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.  White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway said the firing had “zero to do with Russia.”  That was all spin.  Trump later said he would have fired Comey “regardless of recommendation,” and he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he decided to act.
  • National Security Adviser Mike Flynn told the Washington Post in February that he did not speak to Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, about U.S. sanctions leveled by the Obama administration in response to Russia’s election meddling.  Flynn shortly after admitted he did talk about sanctions with Kislyak and resigned.  About 10 months later, he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Kislyak.
  • In response to Flynn’s guilty plea, Trump claimed that Hillary Clinton “lied many times to the FBI and nothing happened to her.”  There is no evidence Clinton lied to the FBI.  In fact, Comey, then serving as the FBI director, told Congress last year that there was “no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI.”
  • In an interview, Vice President Mike Pence was asked if “there was any contact in any way” between the Trump campaign and “the Kremlin or cutouts they had.”  Pence responded, “Of course not.  Why would there be any contacts between the campaign?”  That proved to be false.
  • Donald Trump Jr. agreed to meet on June 9, 2016, with Russians who promised damaging information on Clinton as part of Russia’s support for Trump’s candidacy.  The President’s son at first misleadingly described the meeting as “primarily” about the adoption of Russian children, but later acknowledged he agreed to the meeting to obtain dirt on Clinton.
  • Jay Sekulow, one of the President’s attorneys, said on July 12 that “the President wasn’t involved” in drafting his son Donald Jr.’s statement about the June 2016 meeting with the Russians.  That turned out to be false.  Two weeks later, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitted the President “offered suggestions like any father would do.”
  • Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law, met with Kislyak on Dec. 1, 2016, during the transition.  It was reported in May that Kushner asked Kislyak at the meeting if Russia could set up a secure communications channel for discussions with the Trump transition team.  In rebuttal, Trump retweeted a “Fox & Friends” tweet that said, “Jared Kushner didn’t suggest Russian communications channel in meeting, source says.”  That’s false.  Kushner later told Congress that he “asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use.”
Trumpian Boasts

During the campaign, Trump vowed that if elected, “We’re going to win with every single facet, we’re going to win so much you may even get tired of winning.”  That kind of over-the-top boasting didn’t end with his election:
  • Trump claimed that China ended its currency manipulation out of “a certain respect” for him, when in reality China had not been devaluing its currency to create a trade advantage since 2014.
  • Trump claimed that “the world is starting to respect the United States of America again,” despite surveys that suggest otherwise.  The White House provided no support for the statement.
  • He said that his “first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal” and “it is now far stronger and more powerful than ever,” when all he did was initiate a review that won’t be done until the end of the year and is yet to result in any improvements.
  • Trump stated that his administration is “spending a lot of money on the inner cities,” although we found that there has been little change in spending so far.  His first budget proposed to cut or eliminate funding for programs that benefit cities.
Jobs and the Economy

During the campaign, Trump promised he would be “the greatest jobs President that God ever created,” and ridiculed the official unemployment rates (which were steadily declining) as “phony numbers.”

In what has been a running theme since he assumed the presidency, Trump regularly boasts that he has turned the economy around — citing the official job gains and unemployment rates in speeches and tweets.

In Trump’s telling, the economy was in shambles until he won the election, and has dramatically turned around since due to his leadership.  As he put it in a speech on Dec. 14, “And you remember how bad we were doing when I first took over — there was a big difference, and we were going down.  This country was going economically down.”  That’s not true.

Here’s a list of some of his economic boasts that were off base:
  • Trump took credit for companies moving to the U.S., claiming that they are “creating job growth the likes of which our country has not seen in a very long time.”  In fact, the U.S. has been steadily adding jobs every month since early 2010, and the job gains for the first 11 months of 2017 were slightly smaller than the gains during the first 11 months of each of the four previous years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Trump repeatedly took credit for investment and job-creation announcements that had nothing to do with him: Ford, GM, and Charter Communications, to name a few.  The President, for example, said Toyota’s announcement that it would invest $1.3 billion in an assembly plant in Kentucky “would not have been made if we didn’t win the election.”  That’s false.  Toyota spokesman Aaron Fowles told us in an interview that the investment “predates the Trump administration” and had been planned “several years ago.”
  • Trump also said he is “putting the miners back to work,” citing as evidence a new coal mine in Pennsylvania that was under construction before he won the election.
Immigration, Crime and Terrorism

Trump frequently ties immigrants to crime and terrorism without the benefit of facts.

In December, Trump lobbed the baseless charge that other countries are gaming a lottery-based immigration program known as the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program.  Trump said foreign countries “take their worst and they put them in the bin” so that when the lottery occurs, “we end up getting them.”  That’s not how it works.

Other claims that Trump made on immigration and terrorism:
  • Trump drew rebuke from the Netherlands Embassy in the United States and British Prime Minister Theresa May for retweeting an anti-Muslim video that purported to show a “Muslim migrant” beating up “a Dutch boy on crutches.”  The tweet was wrong.  The attacker was born and raised in the Netherlands and was not an immigrant.
  • He also exaggerated when he said Sweden was “having problems like they never thought possible” as a result of accepting refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.  There was an increase in some categories of crime in Sweden since 2015, but government statistics do not corroborate the claim of a major crime wave due to immigrants.
  • Trump, who regularly criticizes the media, made the nonsensical claim that “radical Islamic” terrorist attacks are “not even being reported” by the “very, very dishonest press.”  The White House later said Trump was talking about terrorist attacks that have gone “underreported,” not unreported.  But even that criticism was proved wrong when the White House produced a list of “underreported” terrorist attacks that contained numerous widely covered attacks between September 2014 and December 2016.
  • Trump incorrectly tweeted that “122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield,” when the total at the time was really eight former detainees.
  • Trump falsely claimed that border apprehensions, an indicator of attempts to illegally enter the U.S. through Mexico, “didn’t go down” under “past administrations.”  Before Trump took office, there was a 75 percent decrease in apprehensions at the Southwest border from the peak in fiscal year 2000 to fiscal year 2016.

The President made the baffling claim that under his tax overhaul proposal, “the rich will not be gaining at all with this plan.”

That was in September, when Trump had only a one-page outline for a plan.  But the general details — abolish the estate tax, cut the corporate rate and abolish the alternative minimum tax — would clearly benefit the rich.  And as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin acknowledged the following month, “when you’re cutting taxes across the board, it’s very hard not to give tax cuts to the wealthy with tax cuts to the middle class.”

Trump continued the false theme after Republican lawmakers introduced legislation:
  • The President claimed in late November that the tax plan would “cost me a fortune.”  Unlike past Presidents, Trump hasn’t released his tax returns, so we can’t say exactly how he would be affected.  But, again, several provisions would cut taxes for wealthy individuals like Trump.  The final legislation cuts the corporate rate, increases exemptions for the AMT and estate tax, and cuts the top individual income tax rate.  The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found 91 percent of the top 1 percent income earners would get a tax cut in 2018, averaging nearly $62,000.
  • He repeatedly and wrongly claimed the plan was “the biggest tax cut in our history.”  The final GOP plan will reduce tax revenues by nearly $1.5 trillion over 10 years, which still ranks it eighth or fourth place, as measured by a percentage of gross domestic product or in inflation-adjusted dollars, respectively.
  • Trump said “more than 30 million” small-business owners would get a marginal tax rate reduction that, in reality, could have affected no more than about 670,000 high-income taxpayers who report business income.
  • Trump also pushed the popular myth that farm families often have to “sell the farm” in order to pay the estate tax.  One expert told us he has never seen such a case in decades of studying the issue.
Health Care

At a campaign-style rally in Kentucky in March, Trump falsely said that “many of our best and brightest are leaving the medical profession entirely because of Obamacare.”  The number of active physicians increased 8 percent from 2010, when the Affordable Care Act became law, to 2015, the most recent data available from the Association of American Medical Colleges.
  • Trump also wrongly claimed that “Obamacare covers very few people,” despite the fact that the number of Americans without health insurance had fallen by 20 million since the ACA was enacted.  That’s according to the National Health Interview Survey, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Trump said, without evidence, that by allowing insurers to sell plans across state lines, “your premiums will be down 60 and 70 percent.”  The White House provided no support for those figures.  Experts told us they knew of no study to back up the claim, and they disputed the idea that average premiums would drop significantly.
2016 Election

Months after a convincing victory in the Electoral College, the new President continued to insist — without evidence — that millions of illegal votes caused him to lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

But the “evidence” provided by the White House to substantiate claims about widespread voter fraud — from noncitizens voting, people voting in multiple states and so-called “dead people” voting — did not hold up.  Nevertheless, the President formed a commission to investigate voter fraud, which has met twice.  In November, one of the members of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, Matthew Dunlap, filed a complaint in district court to find out what exactly the commission is doing.  He wrote: “The commission was formed in May to answer monster-under-the-bed questions about ‘voter fraud,’ but the implicit rationale for its creation appears to be to substantiate President Trump’s unfounded claims that up to 5 million people voted illegally in 2016.”

In September, Kris Kobach, vice chairman of the commission, claimed to have “proof” of voter fraud in New Hampshire that was widespread enough to have swung a U.S. Senate election in favor of the Democrats.  His evidence?  Several thousand people who registered to vote on Election Day with an out-of-state driver’s license had not since registered a car or gotten a driver’s license in New Hampshire.  But it is likely that most of those voters were college students who are allowed by state law to vote in New Hampshire even though they only live in the state part of the year.

The President continues to relitigate an election that he won and repeat false claims from a year ago about his defeated opponent.  Other election-related whoppers Trump told this year:
  • A day after his inauguration, Trump claimed the crowd at the event “looked like a million-and-a-half people,” saying it “went all the way back to the Washington Monument.”  He accused the news media of lying about it.  Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary at the time, read from a statement that said: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”  Both were wrong.
  • Trump claimed his November victory was “the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.”  It wasn’t.  Three Presidents since Reagan captured a larger share of electoral votes than Trump did, including Republican George H.W. Bush.
  • In a blast from the campaign past, Trump repeated his claim that “Hillary Clinton gave away 20 percent of the uranium in the United States” to Russia.  He’s wrong on several counts.  The deal that allowed Russia to take control of a company with uranium assets in the U.S. was approved by two government bodies, not any one person.  As secretary of state, Clinton was one of nine voting members of the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States that approved the deal.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which also approved the deal, told us Russia has not received any U.S. uranium as a result of the transaction.  Trump’s use of the 20 percent figure is also wrong.
Whoppers from the Rest

Beyond Trump and his team, there were certainly others in both parties who spread false and misleading information in 2017.

Consider the statements of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican whose wife is the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, and Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat who is perhaps the President’s fiercest critic.

In a Fox News interview, Gingrich claimed “it wasn’t the Russians” that hacked into the DNC computers, but a former DNC staffer “who, I suspect, was disgusted by the corruption of the Democratic National Committee.”  He said Seth Rich “apparently was assassinated” after “having given WikiLeaks something like … 53,000 [DNC] emails and 17,000 attachments.”

This fanciful tale has no basis in fact.  Gingrich repeated an inaccurate report by the local Fox News affiliate in Washington, D.C., about Rich, who was shot to death in Washington, D.C., in July 2016 in what local police have described as a likely botched robbery.  Gingrich spread this widely debunked conspiracy theory even though the Fox affiliate days earlier had largely retracted its report.

For her part, Waters spread unsubstantiated rumors about Trump in an MSNBC interview.  Asked about an opposition research report compiled by a former British intelligence officer on Trump’s alleged ties with Russia, Waters falsely claimed that the unsubstantiated allegations of “sex actions” made against Trump in the report are “absolutely true.”  Those claims haven’t been confirmed.

Here are other notable claims made by members of both parties this year — many of them about the failed Republican attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act:
  • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats “don’t get much support from Wall Street.”  That’s not so.  The party’s congressional candidates got nearly $47 million from bankers, stockbrokers, hedge fund officials, venture capitalists and private equity firms in the 2016 campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  That was slightly more than the $44 million that Democratic congressional candidates received during the same period from labor union PACs and officials.
  • Republican Sen. Ted Cruz claimed that “Obamacare is discouraging people from going to medical school.”  There’s no evidence of that.  In fact, the number of medical school applicants and enrollees reached an all-time high this year.
  • President Barack Obama, before leaving office, boasted that a treaty he signed in 2011 with Russia “has substantially reduced our nuclear stockpiles, both Russia and the United States.”  In fact, the treaty does not require either nation to destroy any nuclear weapons or reduce its nuclear stockpile.  The treaty, among other things, limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 for each country, but at the time of Obama’s boast, Russia had actually increased deployed nuclear warheads under the treaty by 17 percent, from 1,537 to 1,796.  As of Sept. 1, Russia reported having 1,561 deployed nuclear warheads — still 11 more than the treaty allows, although Russia has until February 2018 to comply with the 1,550 limit.
  • House Speaker Paul Ryan said he didn’t think anyone would be hurt by an $800 billion reduction in Medicaid spending over 10 years in the Republican health care bill.  But, at the time, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that 14 million fewer Americans would have Medicaid coverage by 2026, compared with current law.
  • Ryan and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders both distorted the CBO’s analysis of the Republican health care bill.  Sanders claimed that the bill “would throw 22 million Americans off of health insurance,” while Ryan said no one would be thrown off insurance.  “It’s not that people are getting pushed off our plan,” Ryan said.  “It’s that people will choose not to buy something they don’t like or want.”  Actually, CBO said the bill would reduce the number of people with health insurance by 22 million through a combination of both: Some would voluntarily choose not to buy health insurance, but others would no longer be eligible for Medicaid or would not be able to afford coverage.
  • Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, wrongly claimed that “over 1.2 million Nevadans with preexisting conditions … would be denied coverage or face exorbitant, unaffordable premiums” under the GOP health care bill.  The bill would not have allowed insurers to deny coverage.  Also, the 1.2 million figure is a high-end estimate for all Nevadans with some preexisting condition — not just those likely to buy plans on the individual market who would be affected by the GOP bill.
  • Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican who voted against the health care bill, said subsidies “are actually greater under the Republican bill than they are under the current Obamacare law.”  That’s wrong.  CBO said the average subsidy under the bill would be “significantly lower than the average subsidy under current law,” and the government would save $424 billion over 10 years — compared with current law — due mainly to reductions in government subsidies.
  • Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for failing to disclose that he met twice as a senator with the Russian ambassador during the campaign in 2016.  Sessions said he did so as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  In a statement and on Twitter, McCaskill falsely claimed that in her 10 years on the Senate Armed Services Committee she had “no call from, or meeting with, the Russian ambassador.  Ever.”  She did.
  • Hillary Clinton falsely claimed that no debate moderator ever asked Donald Trump, “exactly how are you going to create more jobs?”  It was asked in two of the three Presidential debates between Clinton and Trump.

Monday, December 18, 2017

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 12/15/2017

"Shields and Brooks on GOP tax bill’s economic impact, Doug Jones’ Alabama win" PBS NewsHour 12/15/2017


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks joins Judy Woodruff to analyze the week’s news, including the priorities Republicans are putting forward in their tax overhaul bill, Democrat Doug Jones’ Senate upset in Alabama and what it means for Republicans in elections to come.

Judy Woodruff (NewsHour):  And now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

I guess it’s now all over but the shouting, Mark.  The Republicans seem to have the votes on this tax bill.  What do you make of it?

Mark Shields, syndicated columnist:  Well, Judy, the legendary late conservative columnist Robert Novak was an old friend and a constant frequent debating said the Republican Party stated seriously and approvingly that the Republican Party is put on earth for one reason, that’s to cut taxes, and I think they’ve lived up to the Novak mandate today.  I mean, that’s it.  I mean, that’s all it’s about.

I mean, think about this — cut the effective corporate tax rate by 46 percent, to 21 percent from 35.  And at the same time, 8.9 million American children who get coverage, medical coverage under the children’s health insurance plan go unfunded since September 30th because they can’t somehow, in their feverish pursuit of lowering the top tax rate from 39.6 percent down to 37 percent so Steve Schwarzman can somehow have an easier Christmas, they can’t find the money.  These are working poor families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid and not enough to buy their own health insurance.

It is the caricature of the enforcement of the ugliest stereotype of the Republicans as an uncaring party passing a bill that was written by and for the richest and most powerful.

Judy Woodruff:  David?

David Brooks, New York Times:  I’ll dial it back a few notches when you get to my position.  But, you know, I’m not against corporate tax cuts.  You know, Barack Obama once proposed cutting the corporate tax rate to 28 percent.  So, we got 21 percent, so seven percentage points lower.  That doesn’t strike me as a great moral difference.  I think cutting the corporate tax rate as Sweden and all these other countries have done is good for the economy and makes us competitive around the world.  It follows an international trend of people doing this.

But to me, you’ve got to surround it with other things to help the people that Mark is talking about.  And that’s what the Republicans didn’t do, cutting the marginal rates, bad idea.  They didn't even simplify rates.

And so, what strikes me is how irrelevant — I went to work at the Wall Street Journal editorial page in 1986.  We’ve been talking about — Republicans have been talking about tax reform ever since that last tax reform.  And all these ideas have been floated around.  Some of them are — reduce the number of rates, of brackets, make a flat tax.

This bill has nothing to do with any of that work.  This bill has nothing to do with all the intellectual work that real economists put in who are Republican, who are conservative, who have a vision of improving incentives.  What’s big about this is that the Republican Party has become detached from the Republican economic profession.  And so, they pass a bill simply as donor maintenance and it’s about hurting their people and helping our people without really an underlying economic philosophy at all.

So, they took an opportunity to do something pretty good, and they have a few good morsels in there, and they ended up doing something pretty bad that will hurt the worst and without helping growth.

Judy Woodruff:  Will they at least help themselves politically, Mark?

Mark Shields:  No, they won’t.  Judy, I mean, it starts with 45 percent support in the country, and the broadly-held perception that it is written by and for the rich, that it’s a payoff, and they are comforting themselves, Republicans, with somehow the secure knowledge that once it passes and people start to see the benefits of it, that they will feel better about it.

I would remind them of 2010, the Affordable Care Act, not in social policy but political implication, once it passed, Democrats were sure that people would feel a lot better about it.  And in 2010, of course, the Democrats suffered a stinging rebuke.

The Republicans will be on the defensive about this, as well they should be.  The corporations that so desperately need this, there is only $2.3 trillion in offshore money they’re sitting on right now, and there is no provision at all, no requirement that they hire a single worker, retrain a single worker, expand a plant or anything of the sort, and it’s going to go right back to the shareholders, the stockholders and buying back stock.

Judy Woodruff:  So, are they taking — David, are they taking — are Republicans taking a risk by what they’ve done?

David Brooks:  Yes, I think so.  I mean, I take the biggest picture.  The big issue facing American domestic politics is widening inequality and the collapse of the working class.  And so, the Obama administration, given this big problem, decided to spend their entire administration talking about the health insurance markets, which is really related to but tangential.  The Republicans have decided to lose their majority on the corporate tax rates which really has nothing to do with the central problem.

So, what’s mystifying to me is that the two last administration’ and political establishment going on 12 years now is ignoring the big problem and tackling other problems.  And so, that is going to mean that the inequality and the white working class and every working class that’s collapsing, that issue which drove the Trump election is going to be worse and worse and worse, and it will have effects we can’t predict right now.

Mark Shields:  Not to be prickly, but I just point out that Barack Obama confronted the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.  I mean, getting out of that was the prime concern.  He brought us back from the precipice.  I agree with you on the expanding inequality, but it wasn’t comparable in any way of 105 sustained months of job growth and economic growth under Barack Obama that was inherited by Donald Trump and is about to be squandered in this giveaway.

David Brooks:  I’ll give you that, getting over the 2008, 2007 recession was big accomplishment early in the administration, but it still remains the fact that once they got over that, they could then turned to these — the Michigans, the Pennsylvanias, the Ohios, and either done infrastructure.  They could have done a bunch of things, which are always on the table and everybody says they’re in favor of, and nobody actually does because it doesn’t go — and the Republicans, the donor base.  And the Democrats, they have to have a thing about health insurance.

And the insurance markets, they were right to do that.  There was just a small thing they did to help people get a lot more people get insured, but it did not — what mystifies me is our inability to even frontally address the main problem of the day.

Mark Shields:  You’re right, but I just point out one thing, and that is saving the United States automobile industry, Ohio and Michigan, were not minor accomplishments and they were opposed by the Republicans and the Republican standard bearer.

David Brooks:  Fair point. 

AT THE MOVIES - Unforgettable Films

"The unforgettable films of 2017" PBS NewsHour 12/15/2017


SUMMARY:  A Winston Churchill biopic, a horror film about American society and racism, a mother-daughter coming of age story.  Mike Sargent of WBAI and Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post share some of their favorite movies of the year with Jeffrey Brown.

BRIEF BUT SPECTACULAR - Martha Lane Fox, About the Internet

"The alarming challenge of building a safer, fairer internet" PBS NewsHour 12/14/2017


SUMMARY:  When Martha Lane Fox was starting her career in tech, the internet felt like the "most incredible, redistributive, democratic, empowering force for good."  So what went wrong?  Fox, a current board member of Twitter and founder of Doteveryone, offers her Brief but Spectacular take on how to make sure the internet lives up to its potential.

HEALTH - Counterfeit Drugs

"Fighting the public health threat of counterfeit drugs" PBS NewsHour 12/14/2017


SUMMARY:  Fake pharmaceuticals are a multi-billion dollar problem around the world.  Made and packaged to look like the real deal, these phonies may contain a fraction of the active ingredients or none at all.  These fake drugs can have serious consequences in countries with tenuous health care, as well as in the developed world.  Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from Kenya.

SANDY HOOK - Every Day We Waste

"To this Sandy Hook mom, ‘every day we waste, more people are dying’" PBS NewsHour 12/14/2017


SUMMARY:  For many parents of children at Sandy Hook Elementary, gun violence and how to prevent it was barely on their radar.  Now, five years after 20 children lost their lives, parents are finding ways to cope through education.  Special correspondent Lisa Stark of Education Week sits down with Nicole Hockley, who founded Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit that combats gun violence in schools.

GROWING KINGDOM - Disney-Fox Merger

"How would a Disney-Fox merger affect what we watch?" PBS NewsHour 12/14/2017


SUMMARY:  Disney is buying a sizeable chunk of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox for $52 billion.  It comes on the same day that the FCC voted to end net neutrality.  Hari Sreenivasan talks to David Folkenflik of NPR about what Disney wants with Fox, what it means for the world of entertainment, and why President Trump has a personal interest in the deal.

REPUBLICAN AGENDA - The Regressive Tax Plan (including final bill)

"How does the GOP tax plan affect you?  You asked, we answer" PBS NewsHour 12/13/2017


SUMMARY:  Republicans are poised to work out their differences on the tax overhaul bill, a major piece of legislation that could affect work, health care, education, charity and other facets of American life.  How does it affect you?  We received an avalanche of questions from viewers, and Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to answer some of them.

"Republicans rush to finalize tax overhaul as roadblocks loom" PBS NewsHour 12/14/2017


SUMMARY:  Republicans are racing to keep their promise of sending a final tax overhaul bill to the White House by Christmas.  On Wednesday GOP lawmakers announced they reached a compromise in principle to bridge the House and Senate bills.  But with only two votes to spare, Senate Republicans are facing health issues and holdouts.  William Brangham reports on how the bill is shaping up.

"Who will reap the wealth of the GOP corporate tax cut?" PBS NewsHour 12/14/2017


SUMMARY:  The corporate tax rate is set to drop 14 percent under the new tax bill.  Will big businesses invest more in American plants and factories?  What will it mean for American workers?  Economics correspondent Paul Solman breaks down the numbers.

"What's in the GOP's final tax plan" by Jeanne Sahadi, CNN Money 12/17/2017

Well, that was fast.

Just six weeks after lawmakers and the public got their first glimpse of the first draft of a tax overhaul bill, Republicans on Friday released their final version.  They aim to pass it next week and send it to President Trump for his signature.

The final bill still leans heavily toward tax cuts for corporations and business owners.  But it also expands or restores some tax benefits for individuals relative to the earlier bills passed by the House and Senate.

The individual provisions would expire by the end of 2025, but most of the corporate provisions would be permanent.

All told, the final bill includes trillions in tax cuts, most of which but not all are offset by revenue-raising measures.  The bill on net would increase deficits by an estimated $1.46 trillion over a decade, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.  That number would be much higher if, as Republicans assume, a future Congress does not allow the individual tax cuts to expire after 2025.

One important note:  The bill would not affect 2017 taxes, for which Americans will start filing their returns in a month or so.

With that, here's a quick rundown of 16 key provisions in the final bill.


1.  Lowers (many) individual rates:  The bill preserves seven tax brackets, but changes the rates that apply to: 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37%.

Today's rates are 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, 35% and 39.6%.

Here's how much income would apply to the new rates:
-- 10% (income up to $9,525 for individuals; up to $19,050 for married couples filing jointly)
-- 12% (over $9,525 to $38,700; over $19,050 to $77,400 for couples)
-- 22% (over $38,700 to $82,500; over $77,400 to $165,000 for couples)
-- 24% (over $82,500 to $157,500; over $165,000 to $315,000 for couples)
-- 32% (over $157,500 to $200,000; over $315,000 to $400,000 for couples)
-- 35% (over $200,000 to $500,000; over $400,000 to $600,000 for couples)
-- 37% (over $500,000; over $600,000 for couples)

2.  Nearly doubles the standard deduction:  For single filers, the bill increases it to $12,000 from $6,350 currently; for married couples filing jointly it increases to $24,000 from $12,700.

The net effect:  The percentage of filers who choose to itemize would drop sharply, since the only reason to do so is if your deductions exceed your standard deduction.

3.  Eliminates personal exemptions:  Today you're allowed to claim a $4,050 personal exemption for yourself, your spouse and each of your dependents.  Doing so lowers your taxable income and thus your tax burden.  The GOP tax plan eliminates that option.

For families with three or more kids, that could mute if not negate any tax relief they might get as a result of other provisions in the bill.

4.  Caps state and local tax deduction:  The final bill will preserve the state and local tax deduction for anyone who itemizes, but it will cap the amount that may be deducted at $10,000.  Today the deduction is unlimited for your state and local property taxes plus income or sales taxes.

The SALT break has been on the book for more than a century.  The original House and Senate GOP bills sought to repeal it entirely to help pay for the tax cuts, but that met with stiff resistance from lawmakers in high-tax states.

Residents in the vast majority of counties across the country claim an average SALT deduction below $10,000, according to the Tax Foundation.  So for low- and middle-income families who currently itemize because of their SALT deduction, they're likely to take the much higher standard deduction under the bill if it becomes law, unless their total itemized deductions, including SALT, top $12,000 if single or $24,000 if married filing jointly.

Preserving the break -- albeit with a cap -- is likely to provide more help to higher income households in high-tax states.

5.  Expands child tax credit:  The credit would be doubled to $2,000 for children under 17.  It also would be made available to high earners because the bill would raise the income threshold under which filers may claim the full credit to $200,000 for single parents, up from $75,000 today; and to $400,000 for married couples, up from $110,000 today.

Like the first $1,000 of the child tax credit, $400 of the additional $1,000 also will be refundable, meaning a low- or middle-income family will be able get the money refunded to them if their federal income tax liability nets out at zero.

Even with the additional $400 in refundability, however, 10 million children from working low-income families would receive only an additional $75 in benefit under the bill, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates.

6.  Creates temporary credit for non-child dependents:  The bill would allow parents to take a $500 credit for each non-child dependent whom they're supporting, such as a child 17 or older, an ailing elderly parent or an adult child with a disability.

7.  Lowers cap on mortgage interest deduction:  If you take out a new mortgage on a first or second home you would only be allowed to deduct the interest on debt up to $750,000, down from $1 million today.  Homeowners who already have a mortgage would be unaffected by the change.

The bill would no longer allow a deduction for the interest on home equity loans.  Currently that's allowed on loans up to $100,000.

8.  Curbs who's hit by AMT:  Earlier bills called for the elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax.  The final version keeps it, but reduces the number of filers who would be hit by it by raising the income exemption levels to $70,300 for singles, up from $54,300 today; and to $109,400, up from $84,500, for married couples.

9.  Preserves smaller but popular tax breaks:  Earlier versions of the bill had proposed repealing the deductions for medical expenses, student loan interest and classroom supplies bought with a teacher's own money.  They also would have repealed the tax-free status of tuition waivers for graduate students.

The final bill, however, preserves all of these as they are under the current code.  And it actually expands the medical expense deduction for 2018 and 2019.

10.  Exempts almost everybody from the estate tax:  Unlike the House GOP bill, the final bill does not call for a repeal of the estate tax.

But it essentially eliminates it for all but the smallest number of people by doubling the amount of money exempt from the estate tax -- currently set at $5.49 million for individuals, and $10.98 million for married couples.  Even at today's levels, only 0.2% of all estates ever end up being subject to the estate tax.

11.  Slows inflation adjustments in tax code:  The bill would use "chained CPI" to measure inflation, which is a slower measure than is used today.  The net effect is your deductions, credits and exemptions will be worth less -- since the inflation adjusted dollars defining eligibility and maximum value would grow more slowly.  It also would subject more of your income to higher rates in future years than would be the case under the current code.

12.  Eliminates mandate to buy health insurance:  There would no longer be a penalty for not buying insurance.  While long a goal of Republicans to get rid of it, the measure also would help offset the cost of the tax bill.  It is estimated to save money because it would reduce how much the federal government spends on insurance subsidies and Medicaid.

The Congressional Budget Office expects fewer consumers who qualify for subsidies will enroll on the Obamacare exchanges, and fewer people who are eligible for Medicaid will seek coverage and learn they can sign up for the program.

But policy experts also note that the mandate repeal could raise premiums because more healthy people might decide to skip buying insurance.


13.  Lowers tax burden on pass-through businesses:  The tax burden on owners, partners and shareholders of S-corporations, LLCs and partnerships -- who pay their share of the business' taxes through their individual tax returns -- would be lowered by a 20% deduction, somewhat less than the 23% called for in the Senate-passed bill.

The 20% deduction would be prohibited for anyone in a service business -- unless their taxable income is less than $315,000 if married ($157,500 if single).

14.  Includes rule to prevent abuse of pass-through tax break:  If the owner or partner in a pass-through also draws a salary from the business, that money would be subject to ordinary income tax rates.

But to prevent people from characterizing their wage income as business profits to get the benefit of the pass-through deduction, the bill would place limits on how much income would qualify for the deduction.

Tax experts nevertheless have warned that this kind of anti-abuse measure still presents taxpayers with a lot of opportunities to game the system, and favors passive owners of a business over active owners who actually run things.

15.  Slashes corporate rate:  The bill cuts the corporate rate to 21% from 35%, starting next year.  That's somewhat higher than the 20% called for earlier.  The increase was made to free up some revenue to accommodate lawmaker demands on other provisions.  The bill would also repeal the alternative minimum tax on corporations.

16.  Change how U.S. multinationals are taxed:  Today U.S. companies owe Uncle Sam tax on all their profits, regardless of where the income is earned.  They're allowed to defer paying U.S. tax on their foreign profits until they bring the money home.

Many argue that this "worldwide" tax system puts American businesses at a disadvantage.  That's because most foreign competitors come from countries with territorial tax systems, meaning they don't owe tax to their own governments on income they make offshore.

The final GOP bill proposes switching the U.S. to a territorial system.  It also includes a number of anti-abuse provisions to prevent corporations with foreign profits from gaming the system.

In the meantime it would require companies to pay a one-time, low tax rate on their existing overseas profits -- 15.5% on cash assets and 8% on non-cash assets (e.g., equipment abroad in which profits were invested), slightly higher than the rates in the Senate- and House-passed bills.