In today's edition, we share some more stories from a busy holiday break as well as all of yesterday's news. Highlights include a look at who will benefit most in Washington from tax reform, continued fallout over sexual harassment secrecy in Congress, bad news for Vladimir Putin's most significant political challenger, and more.
tax and spend
- President Trump stands to save millions thanks to tax bill. "President Trump, who won the White House on a wave of populist promises, will likely save millions of dollars, thanks to Congress’s approval of a tax plan he pledged was designed for the middle class. Trump, who said he would be a 'big loser' if the bill passed, stands to gain immensely from the Republican tax overhaul, including through a lower top tax rate and lucrative deductions for top-earning households, according to attorneys and tax experts who reviewed the final bill." (Washington Post) It is important to note that the full extent of the benefit to Trump will remain unknown because he continues to refuse to release his tax returns, breaking 40 years of precedent.
- Lobbyists expecting plenty of work in wake of tax reform bill. "President Donald Trump just signed into law the biggest tax overhaul in a generation, but that means more work — not less — for Washington’s tax lobbyists. Rather than streamlining the tax code, Republicans have made it more complicated by jamming through a new series of temporary tax breaks for everything from craft brewers to citrus growers. Lobbyists expect these breaks, known as tax extenders, to generate paydays for years." (POLITICO)
- Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) will benefit from tax bill, but did that influence his vote? Corker, who was one of the last GOP holdouts on the bill before eventually voting yes, adamantly argues no. But, as Seung Min Kim reported before Christmas, "the mystery over Corker’s flip quickly swirled into a political firestorm over suggestions that the senator decided to support the tax measure only after winning a provision that could personally enrich him. Liberal activists and lawmakers declared it the 'Corker Kickback,' in a last-ditch bid to derail the bill — or at least further tarnish Republicans’ big tax win this week." (POLITICO)
- How foreign governments are finding ways to help out Trump businesses. "In Indonesia, a local government plans to build a road to shorten the drive between the main airport on the island of Bali and the new high-end Trump resort and golf course. In Panama, the country’s federal government intervened to ensure a sewer system around a 70-story Trump skyscraper shaped like a sail in Panama City would be completed. And in other countries, governments have donated public land, approved permits and eased environmental regulations for Trump-branded developments, creating a slew of potential conflicts as foreign leaders make investments that can be seen as gifts or attempts to gain access to the American president through his sprawling business empire." (McClatchy DC)
- Ivanka Trump regularly wears her own clothing brand during public appearances, but she hasn't divested her interest in the business. Last week, Jean Eaglesham and Lisa Schwartz reported that the First Daughter and presidential advisor wore dresses, shoes, bags, or jewelry from her personal clothing brand in two-thirds of her public appearances as a White House official. She hasn't divested, meaning that she continues to personally benefit from sales of the brand that she regularly serves as a walking billboard for. (Wall Street Journal)
- Ethics watchdog calls on Department of Commerce IG to investigate Secretary Wilbur Ross. On December 22 Ashley Balcerzak reported, "he inspector general of the Commerce Department should investigate whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has complied with ethics and disclosure rules on several fronts, according to a new complaint from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington." (Center for Public Integrity)
- House Ethics Committee expands investigation of Rep. Blake Farenthold beyond existing harassment claims. John Bresnahan reported that on December 21 the House Ethics Committee announced "that it was expanding its investigation into GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold to include allegations he improperly used official resources for campaign activities, as well as lying to the panel. Farenthold is already under investigation over claims that he sexually harassed at least one former staffer." Farenthold had already announced that he would not run for reelection in wake of the sexual harassment revelations. (POLITICO)
- After the Senate Office of Compliance denied Sen. Tim Kaine's information requested around sexual harassment settlements, the Rules Committee released 20 years of data on workplace settlements. The documents were released on December 21. "The breakdown, which the Senate Rules and Administration Committee said was information provided by the Office of Compliance, included 13 settlements for claims involving Senate offices. They totaled close to $600,000 over a span of 20 years. The descriptions for the complaints included discrimination based on sex, age and disability, but there was no explicit mention of sexual harassment. There were also 10 additional settlements involving claims against non-member-led Senate offices, totaling $853,000.The Office of Compliance has previously said it considers sexual harassment under the category of sex discrimination. In a letter to Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, responding to his request for additional information, the compliance office said, 'Traditionally, the OOC has not separated allegations of sexual harassment from those involving sex-based disparate treatment or pregnancy discrimination.'" (CNN)
- Watchdogs claim Immigration and Customs Enforcement is hiding details of immigration prison locations. On December 19, Charles S. Clark reported, "Immigration and Customs Enforcement, working at the epicenter of the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration, has released incomplete data on its detention facilities that muddies the costs and the agency’s reliance on private contractors, according to critics at two nonprofits." (Government Executive)
- EPIC's attempt to block Trump "voter fraud" commission from collecting voter data is denied by appeals court. Last Tuesday Christie Smythe reported, "A U.S. privacy group doesn’t have the legal right to seek a court order to block President Donald Trump’s election-integrity commission from collecting voter data because it doesn’t meet the necessary requirements, an appeals court ruled." (Bloomberg)
around the world
- The State Department is calling on Iran to stop blocking internet sites amid protests. "As Iran’s supreme leader accused “enemies of Iran” of trying to destabilize his country, the State Department pressed Tehran to unblock social media sites used by the protesters. It even offered advice to tech-savvy Iranians on circumventing state internet controls." The push came as the Trump administration threw its support to the protestors. (Associated Press) We oppose social media blocks & Internet shutdowns. They are the calling card of governments afraid of what their people will tell the world and one another. Every nation should empower its people connect & freely express themselves – including Iran and the United States.
- Top Putin critic blocked from presidential run. On December 25 Ilya Arkhipov reported "Russia’s Central Election Commission refused to register opposition leader Alexei Navalny as a candidate in the 2018 presidential elections, confirming warnings that he wouldn’t be allowed on the ballot because of a criminal conviction." (Bloomberg)
- Chilean Supreme Court rules that Right to Information supersedes Right to Be Forgotten. "In a unanimous and unprecedented ruling in the country, the Supreme Court of Chile defended that the right to information overrides the right to be forgotten. The court decided in favor of the Center for Investigative Reporting, CIPER, against a doctor's request to remove a report about medical malpractice from CIPER's site." (Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas)
- How Facebook is aiding repressive regimes around the world. On December 18 Hanna Kozlowska reported that "while Facebook assures western powers, from Germany to the United States, that it will do everything it can to help them defend their democratic processes from malicious actors, it continues to aid, in one way or another, oppressive regimes across the world." (Quartz)
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