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peppertree's Journal
peppertree's Journal
October 1, 2017

Lobbyists See a Billion-Dollar Boon in Tax Rewrite's Lack of Detail

Source: New York Times

The sweeping tax rewrite unveiled by President Trump and Republican lawmakers this past week leaves many of the details to Congress; but two sentences in the nine-page framework have Washington lobbyists salivating over a payday that some industry experts predict could top $1 billion.

That language has prompted concerns among a wide range of businesses and industries about the prospect of losing valuable tax breaks — from preferential tax treatment for insurers to credits for renewable energy to a prized tax treatment used by the commercial real estate industry.

And those fears are being stoked by lobbyists, who are urging clients and prospective clients to get out in front of any changes that could eliminate or weaken sections of the tax code that benefit them.

“You’re either going to be at the table, or you’re going to be on the table,” said Thomas M. Reynolds, a former Republican congressman from New York who served on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and is now a lobbyist at Holland & Knight focusing on tax issues.

Most businesses that could be affected by the tax overhaul “will not have to be encouraged to engage,”Reynolds said.

Read more: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/lobbyists-see-a-billion-dollar-boon-in-tax-rewrite%E2%80%99s-lack-of-detail/ar-AAsEweM?OCID=ansmsnnews11

The swamp will be busy tonight.
September 29, 2017

Justice Department nominee with ties to Russian bank voted out of committee

Source: Washington Examiner

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved President Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Justice's Criminal Division.

Brian Benczkowski, a Republican lawyer who once served as a staff director of the committee for former Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-AL, was advanced in an 11-9 party-line vote and will soon head to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote.

Benczkowski admitted earlier this year that he worked for Russia's Alfa Bank during his time as a partner at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis. He also ran the Trump transition team at the Justice Department.

The New York Times first reported that Benczkowski represented the bank, one of Russia's largest with ties to President Vladimir Putin. The FBI investigated the bank last year after it was mentioned in a dossier containing unproven allegations about the Trump campaign and possible collusion with Russia, but it ultimately concluded there was no wrongdoing or misconduct.

Benczkowski also downplayed his role in the Trump campaign during his confirmation hearing.

Read more: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/justice-department-nominee-with-ties-to-russian-bank-voted-out-of-committee/article/2635920

Criminal division nominee Brian Benczkowski; 'criminal' being the adjective in this case.
September 27, 2017

Trump defaulted on his Puerto Rico golf course, leaving the territory a $33 million debt

Long before Hurricanes Irma or María decimated much of Puerto Rico, the island was already in trouble. Earlier this year, faced with $123 billion in debt (and growing), the U.S. territory took the unprecedented step of essentially declaring bankruptcy.

Trump made it clear that he had little interest in helping Puerto Rico’s debt situation, tweeting on April 27 that "Democrats want to shut government if we don't bail out Puerto Rico and give billions to their insurance companies for OCare failure. NO!"

But according to PolitiFact Florida, Trump only exacerbated the problem.

The Trump International Golf Club Puerto Rico, which, according to Fortune, borrowed $26.4 million in government-backed bonds in order to pay for improvements, later defaulted on a $119,814 bondholder payment. In 2015, the club filed for bankruptcy, which is when Trump (who licensed his name to the property) desperately tried to distance himself from the place bearing his name.

“We have zero financial investment in this course,” Eric Trump told Bloomberg News in July 2015. “This has absolutely nothing to do with Trump. This is a separate owner. We purely manage the golf course.”

Except that Trump, according to BuzzFeed News, did pocket the hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from the resort. And when the club defaulted on those bonds and declared bankruptcy, it left Puerto Rico taxpayers with a hefty $32.7 million bill to pay in order to clean up the soon-to-be-president’s mess.

At: https://www.deathandtaxesmag.com/346335/trump-golf-course-puerto-rico-default-33-million-tax-debt/?utm_source=share-fb&utm_medium=button

September 27, 2017

Saudi Arabia driving ban on women to be lifted

Saudi Arabia's King Salman has issued a decree allowing women to drive for the first time, state media say.

Government ministries are to prepare reports within 30 days and the order will be implemented by June 2018, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to forbid women from driving. Under the current system, only men are allowed driving licences and women who drive in public risk being arrested and fined.

Because of the law, many families have had to employ private drivers to help transport female relatives.

At: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-41408195

September 25, 2017

Buenos Aires students and scientists stage sit-ins to protest unpaid internships, cutbacks

Students from over 30 public high schools in Buenos Aires, Argentina, have been staging sit-in strikes this month to protest municipal educational reform proposals that would force high school seniors to participate in unpaid internships.

Budget cutbacks have also prompted over 330 laid-off fellowship holders at the National Research Council (CONICET) to do likewise at the Ministry of Science and Technology, in Buenos Aires' upscale Palermo neighborhood.

President Mauricio Macri's right-wing administration has repudiated the sit-ins, with Justice Minister Germán Garavano calling them “illegal” despite a court ruling last week that authorized them.

Students are mainly protesting proposals to have senior-year students spend “50% of their time in businesses and organizations, applying what they learned based on their talents and interests.” They argue that this is in fact a cover to provide companies free labor, while leaving little time for their studies.

The proposals, moreover, were not submitted to public comment from teachers, students, and educational NGOs, as current law mandates. Student leaders note as well that the unpaid internship clause was left out of the city's original draft - but discovered only because it had been accidentally published in the city's own website.

High school representatives met with municipal Education Minister Soledad Acuña last week; but negotiations failed. No further meetings have as yet been announced.

The Macri administration has come under fire from teachers' unions and much of the nation's progressive political spectrum for attempting to impose curriculum changes by decree and for cutbacks of 20% in real educational spending since taking office two years ago.

Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, currently running for the Senate, sided with students. She encouraged students to fight for what they consider right, arguing that “everyone has a right to express their views.”

“You don’t have to say 'yes' to everything,” she said in a rally last Friday. “It’s not democratic, and don’t let yourselves be pushed over - because they (the government) will try to.”

At: http://www.thebubble.com/education-reform-justice-minister-says-occupying-schools-is-illegal-as-students-begin-fifth-week-of-protests/

No to "high schools of the future" - the euphemism used by the city government to describe its educational reform decree.
September 25, 2017

The GOP Health Care Bill Is Near Collapse With Rand Paul Still Opposed

Source: Time

A spokesman for Sen. Rand Paul says the Kentucky Republican remains opposed to the GOP bill repealing the Obama health care law. Paul's opposition would almost certainly doom the measure.

Just three Republican opponents would kill the bill in the narrowly divided Senate.

Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain opposes the measure and Maine Republican Susan Collins seems almost sure to do so. Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski is undecided but voted against earlier versions this summer.

Spokesman Sergio Gor says Paul wants a "significant" reduction in the law's $1 trillion in spending, elimination of its coverage requirements and establishment of broad health plans consumers could join.

Gor calls meeting those demands "the only way" Paul votes yes.

Read more: http://time.com/4955799/rand-paul-health-care-bill-opposition/

September 24, 2017

Eight Lessons from Germany's Elections

Angela Merkel is back for a fourth term, the Social Democrats are wounded and a right-wing populist party has been elected to parliament for the first time in decades.

First: The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) is the third-strongest political party in the country and will be taking seats in the German parliament, the Bundestag.

It marks the first time since the early days of postwar Germany that a far-right party will be represented in the Bundestag. That will have consequences in the form of clashes, provocations and scandalous rhetoric.

Second: Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives (the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU) have suffered significant losses; but Merkel has still been returned to the Chancellery for a fourth term.

Creating a governing coalition this time around will be complicated. The Social Democrats (SPD) no longer want to be part of a grand coalition with Merkel's conservatives, which leaves Merkel with only a single option: a coalition with the Green Party and the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP).

There are, however, several hurdles to such a constellation: For one, it would include four separate parties, placing a premium on the amount of day-to-day coordination among them. Plus, it remains to be seen if the Greens are interested in joining forces with a suddenly reanimated FDP.


Eighth: The parliamentary opposition will be polarized between the SPD on the one hand and the AfD on the other - at a time when the governing coalition will likely be one (a "Jamaica" coalition between the CDU/CSU, the FDP, and the Greens) that Germany has never before seen at a federal level.

In the best case, that could be an opportunity for renewal - and when it comes to confronting the AfD, Germany's fundamental values, including freedom and democracy, are at stake.

More at: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/angela-merkel-afd-spd-eight-lessons-from-germany-s-elections-a-1169606.html

Chancellor Angela Merkel confers with the runner-up, SPD leader Martin Schulz. Schulz has indicated the SPD will not stay on as junior partners in Merkel's grand coalition, thus forcing her to govern through an as-yet undetermined minority coalition.
September 24, 2017

Stanley Rother, Oklahoma-born priest killed during Guatemala's civil war, is set to be beatified

Few religious pilgrimages lead down a dusty, unpaved Oklahoma roads. But the unusual destination of this trek from Central America to a rural farmhouse seems an appropriate honor for the Rev. Stanley Rother, a martyred Roman Catholic priest celebrated for his unassuming nature and hard work.

Rother was beatified Saturday at Mass in Oklahoma City, moving him one step closer to possible sainthood. Thousands of people attended the ceremony at a downtown convention center to honor the church's first U.S.-born martyr and the first priest from the United States to be beatified. This is only the second beatification ceremony held in the United States.

The native of Okarche was a 46-year-old missionary in Guatemala when he was killed in 1981, one of several priests slain during the country's civil war between a right-wing dictatorship and liberal guerrillas. His name first appeared on a death list, and then he was shot to death in his mission.

"I feel like his brother — that we lived together, that we share the bond of brotherhood," Juan Pablo Ixbalan said in Tzutuhil, which is spoken by a subgroup of Mayans, through an interpreter. "He became one of us. He learned the language."

Ixbalan, 63, was a young teen when he first met Rother at his church in Santiago Atitlan, situated on a lakeshore between two volcanoes in the Guatemalan highlands where he grew up.

Rother started a radio station, worked alongside farmers and pushed for locals to make and sell knitted clothing. In helping translate the New Testament, Rother is credited with helping start the written form of Tzutuhil. He helped install an irrigation system and brought in crops such as wheat and soybeans, dissuading farmers from using chemicals. He brought in tractors to till the land, and repaired vehicles when they broke down.

Rother was born in 1935, a descendent of German immigrants who homesteaded on the outskirts of Okarche, Oklahoma. While much of the state remains largely protestant, Okarche — population 1,300 — has held to its Catholic heritage. It's still home to the Holy Trinity Church and school Rother attended.

At: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/thousands-attend-beatification-mass-for-american-priest/ar-AAsn4gT

Father Stanley Rother, 1935-1981.
September 21, 2017

Bernie Casey, Football Star Turned Actor, Poet and Painter, Dies at 78

Source: Hollywood Reporter

Actor Bernie Casey, who appeared in numerous films after a career as a standout NFL wide receiver, has died. He was 78.

Casey, who also starred in Cleopatra Jones and several other blaxploitation movies of the 1970s, died Tuesday after a brief illness at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, his representative told The Hollywood Reporter.

Not long after he unexpectedly retired from the Los Angeles Rams, Casey portrayed Chicago Bears player J.C. Caroline in the 1971 ABC telefilm Brian's Song. In Brothers (1977), Casey distinguished himself by portraying a thinly veiled version of George Jackson, a member of the Black Panther Party who was killed in San Quentin in 1971.

Casey played a heroic former slave and train robber in Martin Scorsese's Boxcar Bertha (1972); CIA agent Felix Leiter (a recurring Bond film character) in Never Say Never Again (1983); fraternity president U.N. Jefferson in Revenge of the Nerds (1984); and Col. Rhumbus, tasked with training Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase in John Landis' Spies Like Us (1985). He also wrote, directed, starred in and produced The Dinner (1997).

A true Renaissance man, Casey also was a published poet as well as a painter whose work was exhibited in galleries around the world.

Read more: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/bernie-casey-dead-actor-nfl-910749

Bernie Casey, 1939-2017.
September 20, 2017

Roberto Navarro, Argentina's top rated news anchor, forced out by alleged government pressure

Cable news anchor Roberto Navarro, host of Argentina's top-rated current events program Economía Política, was fired yesterday. Executives at Channel 5, according to Navarro, admitted receiving pressure from the government to force his removal.

Navarro had reportedly drawn ire from the authorities as a result of a number of investigative exposés into alleged corruption and other wrongdoing by the two year-old Mauricio Macri administration, of whose trickle-down policies he's been critical.

His weeknight show had been the first to reveal Macri scandals such as:

·The dollar futures case (in which officials and relatives profited from a 40% devaluation a week after taking office)
·Th partnership between Macri and disgraced contractors Lázaro Báez and Brazil's Odebrecht
·Alleged vote buying to secure congressional approval for a $9 billion payout to vulture funds and other holdout bondholders in March 2016
·Numerous undeclared Macri family offshore shell companies (beyond those uncovered by the Panama Papers leaks)
·Plans for the secret purchase of $2.5 billion in U.S. military equipment
·And the attempted unauthorized sale of the ARSAT-3 satellite to Hughes Electronics this July.

Navarro, 57, has no intention of leaving investigative journalism however.

"We have important denunciations to publish in (online journal) El Destape that concern Vice President Gabriela Michetti's role in laundering money from state banks through her foundation for use in campaign finance," he said in a radio interview today.

He revealed that another top Macri ally, congressional candidate Gladys González, solicited a bribe through WhatsApp. "I wanted to air it and was told that I couldn't mention her," he said.

Channel 5's parent company, the Indalo Group, is currently facing 10 billion pesos ($570 million) in back taxes and penalties from its 'Oil' service station chain. Navarro alleges that the group's news division director, Mariano Frutos, informed him that if he was not dismissed, he (Frutos) would "go to jail."

"A government minister informed me on August 13 that I would be removed, that it had been decided, and that they expected more sympathetic journalists," Navarro said. "Economía Política, which I produce, was then limited as to its content - even the headlines."

"This is happening in the context of (indigenous activist) Milagro Sala's arbitrary imprisonment and the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado - of a democracy that has become precarious."

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.politicaymedios.com.ar%2Fnota%2F9306%2Froberto_navarro_fue_el_gobierno_quien_exigio_mi_salida%2F

Argentine news anchor Roberto Navarro in one of his last broadcasts. Behind him a reference to activist Santiago Maldonado, who disappeared on August 1.

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