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December 29, 2015
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Daniel S. Loeb, who runs the $17 billion Third Point hedge fund, has contributed to Jeb Bush's Super PAC and given $1 million to the American Unity Super PAC, which supports gay rights. He is also one of many ultra-wealthy Americans who have figured out tricky maneuvers to avoid forking over millions in taxes, The New York Times reports:

With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means.

[...] Operating largely out of public view — in tax court, through arcane legislative provisions, and in private negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service — the wealthy have used their influence to steadily whittle away at the government's ability to tax them. The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans. [The New York Times]

"There's this notion that the wealthy use their money to buy politicians; more accurately, it's that they can buy policy, and specifically, tax policy,” Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told The New York Times in a report on the dubious practice. "That's why these egregious loopholes exist, and why it's so hard to close them."

Karen L. Hawkins, who once headed the I.R.S. office overseeing tax practitioners, added that "the best and brightest get a high from figuring out how to do tricky little deals […] Frankly, it is almost beyond the intellectual and resource capacity of the Internal Revenue Service to catch."

And many of these wealthy are among the biggest donors to the 2016 campaign candidates. Read the full report in The New York Times. Jeva Lange

August 27, 2016
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Democrat Hillary Clinton spent Saturday morning at an FBI office near her home in New York receiving her first classified briefing as a nominee for president.

The two-hour meeting came about a week and a half after Republican Donald Trump received a similar intelligence update, attended by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. The briefings are conducted by staff of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and held in special rooms called Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities.

Though such meetings have been used to prepare nominees for a smooth transition into office for more than half a century, opponents of both candidates this election cycle have questioned their respective fitness to receive such valuable information. Clinton's critics pointed to her private email server scandal as evidence that she cannot be trusted with classified documents, while Trump's detractors suggested he is too loose-lipped to handle sensitive data. Bonnie Kristian

August 27, 2016

If you have clear skies just after sunset on Saturday, August 27, look west to see Venus and Jupiter so close on the horizon they almost appear to merge into a single light.

This rare astronomical event is called an "appulse," which is when two celestial bodies appear from Earth's vantage point to approach each other as closely as possible — in this case, with less than one degree between the two planets.

Venus and Jupiter will not come this close again for nearly five decades — the next comparable conjunction will appear in 2065 — and Saturday's light show will be bright enough to view with the naked eye, weather permitting. Bonnie Kristian

August 27, 2016
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Donald Trump took to Twitter Saturday morning to boast that African-American voters will support him come Election Day — and had he stopped there, it would have been just another example of Trump's awkward minority outreach efforts.

Instead, however, he cited the fatal shooting of Nykea Aldridge, cousin of Chicago Bulls shooting guard Dwyane Wade. The mother of four was killed by stray gunfire Friday, and Trump — while misspelling Wade's first name — said her death is one reason black Americans will give him their votes.

Trump was roundly criticized for his tweet after it went live. Actor Don Cheadle tweeted, "You are truly a POS," while The Washington Post's Philip Bump nailed the post's inappropriate tone: "It comes off not as a thoughtful statement of concern for a tragedy that needs to be fixed and more as an attempt to leverage a murder into a campaign slogan." Bonnie Kristian

August 27, 2016
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At least 17 Kyrgyz migrant workers were killed and four more injured Saturday when a printing warehouse in Moscow, Russia, caught fire. The blaze was put out after two hours.

The fire was caused by a broken lamp on the first floor, said Ilya Denisov, chief of Moscow's emergency services, and then spread upstairs through an elevator shaft. The victims are all believed to be young women who were trapped while putting on their work uniforms.

"Most of them were in Moscow to earn money," said Abdygani Shakirov, who works at a local Kyrgyz community organization. "They were in the dressing room and were unable to get out. The smoke had blocked the exit." Bonnie Kristian

August 27, 2016

If you're ever stranded on a desert island, writing "SOS" in giant letters in the sand actually can help — or, at least, it helped a pair of boaters rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard from an uninhabited island in Micronesia on Friday.

The pair began their journey on Wednesday, August 17, and were expected to arrive at their destination one day later. Instead, they landed on the empty island near the Chuuk Lagoon on Friday, August 19, and survived on limited supplies for a week until the SOS was noticed by a U.S. Navy plane. Before the SOS was spotted, rescuers searched some 17,000 square miles without success. Bonnie Kristian

August 27, 2016
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The United States and Russia are close to reaching agreement on national ceasefire in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday, but have yet to sign a deal. Following talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, Kerry said there are still "a few narrow issues to be resolved" before a lasting accord can be reached.

"We don't want to have a deal for the sake of the deal," he explained. "We want to have something done that is effective and that works for the people of Syria, that makes the region more stable and secure, and that brings us to the table here in Geneva to find a political solution."

The U.S. and Russia previously reached a ceasefire agreement in February, but that temporary peace collapsed by April. Bonnie Kristian

August 27, 2016
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Donald Trump's personal physician, Dr. Harold Bornstein, wrote a letter in December declaring Trump the "healthiest individual ever" to have a shot at the presidency, with "astonishingly excellent" test results. Speaking publicly about the letter for the first time on Friday evening, Bornstein revealed he wrote it in "five minutes" while his limo driver waited outside. He did not proofread the letter.

As for the remarkably Trumpian style of the note, Bornstein insisted he wrote it himself, but admitted he "might have picked up [Trump's] kind of language and then interpreted it as my own." Bornstein also justified his claim about Trump's unparalleled health by saying all past presidents "are either sick or dead" — which I guess is at least half true, though you can't really fault guys born 200 years ago for failing to make it to 2016.

Watch Bornstein's remarks below, including the little giggle he can't resist while labeling Trump's mental health "excellent." Bonnie Kristian

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