March 5, 2018

In your periodic reminder that the U.S. has a for-profit health-care system, health insurers and other health-care companies will save tens of billions from the Republican tax overhaul but "patients should not expect the health industry's windfall to lead to lower premiums, reduced prices, or major industry changes," Bob Herman and Caitlin Owens report at Axios. They discovered this by listening to the health-care companies, perusing their fourth-quarter financial reports and conference calls with investors.

The 21 publicly traded companies Axios looked at "collectively expect to gain $10 billion in tax savings in 2018 alone," Herman and Owens write. "Most of the money is going toward share buybacks, dividends, acquisitions, and paying down debt — with just a sliver for one-time employee bonuses, research, and internal investments." Few pharmaceutical companies were included in the Axios data, but drugmakers are already spending at least $50 billion on new stock buybacks, and they and medical device companies are also repatriating tens of billions from offshore accounts, bolstering their bottom lines.

It isn't just health care — U.S. companies have announced more than $218 billion in share buybacks since the GOP passed the law in December, investment research firm TrimTabs said last week. The $153.7 billion in buybacks in February alone broke the previous record of $133 billion in April 2015, and "if the pace keeps up, this year's volume will smash totals from all other previous years going back more than a decade," TrimTabs analyst Winston Chua said in the report.

"Those so-called buybacks are good for shareholders, including the senior executives who tend to be big owners of their companies' stock," Matt Phillips explains at The New York Times. "A company purchasing its own shares is a time-tested way to bolster its stock price. But the purchases can come at the expense of investments in things like hiring, research and development, and building new plants — the sort of investments that directly help the overall economy." Peter Weber

6:09 a.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will propose Monday eliminating all $1.6 trillion of U.S. student debt and and making all public universities, community colleges, and trade schools tuition-free. His plan is broader and more expensive than those offered by fellow 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Julián Castro. Warren's plan, for example, would cost an estimated $640 billion and eliminate up to $50,000 in debt of people earning less than $100,000, effectively wiping out the student loans of 75 percent of borrowers. Sanders proposes to cancel all student debt, including for private colleges and graduate schools..

Sanders says he will pay for it with a tax on stock transactions and bonds. "This is truly a revolutionary proposal," he told The Washington Post. "In a generation hard hit by the Wall Street crash of 2008, it forgives all student debt and ends the absurdity of sentencing an entire generation to a lifetime of debt for the 'crime' of getting a college education." Sander said his tax on investments would raise $2 trillion over 10 years, though some tax experts call that an optimistic figure.

Critics say the Sanders proposal would primarily help educated Americans, who typically earn more, and more affluent families. Sanders and his supporters say creating programs that help all Americans, regardless of income, makes the programs more politically durable. Peter Weber

4:58 a.m.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg held a contentious town hall on Sunday to address anger over the June 16 police shooting of a black man, Eric Logan, by a white police officer. Prosecutors investigating the shooting said Logan, 54, approached Sgt. Ryan O'Neill with a knife after O'Neill confronted him for allegedly breaking into cars. But O'Neill's body camera was not on, and many people at the town hall placed the shooting in the broader context of longstanding tensions between South Bend's black community, which makes up about a quarter of the city's population, and its police force, which is now about 5 percent African American.

Buttigieg, who returned to South Bend from campaigning for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, said he has asked the Justice Department's civil rights division to investigate the shooting and the local prosecutor for an independent investigator. He took responsibility for failing to reform the police department. "The effort to recruit more minority officers to the department and the effort to introduce body cameras have not succeeded and I accept responsibility for that," Buttigieg said. He was joined onstage by Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski.

Buttigieg, 37, has had a sometimes-fraught relationship with his city's black community since he demoted the city's first black police chief during his first term as mayor. "Get the people that are racist off the streets," one woman in the audience said during Sunday's town hall. "Reorganize your department. You can do that by Friday." Buttigieg suggested the attention on this police shooting of a black man might "help us do some good" and said he's not "running away from it," and neither can America. "This problem has to get solved in my lifetime. I don't know of a person or a city that has solved it," he said. "But I know that if we do not solve it in my lifetime, it will sink America." Peter Weber

3:39 a.m.

"Everest was first summited in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "Before then it had been seen as almost an impossible feat," which probably explains why "Everest" has "become everyone's go-to metaphor for a significant challenge," warranted or not. Now however, "climbing Everest has become dangerously popular," he said. That means high death tolls and long lines to the summit, tons of trash, and a "fecal time bomb" as human waste melts and slides downhill.

"So tonight, let's look at what is causing these issues, how Everest's climbing industry operates, and how we can potentially make things safer," Oliver said. The first problem is that there is a narrow window in which people can summit Everest, sometimes just a few days, and starting in the 1990s, commercial expeditions became available, sometimes with six-figure luxury packages. Oliver explained the difference between Sherpas and sherpas, and the very dangerous and integral role sherpas play. "Huge risks are being taken by sherpas to give their client the bragging rights of conquering 'the ultimate mountain,'" he said, noting that Everest isn't actually the hardest mountain to climb.

Everest is still deadly to unprepared or inexperienced climbers, there is essentially no gate-keeping at the Nepal end — Tibet is stricter in granting permission — and some climbing outfits let anyone try to summit, Oliver said, citing one specific example. "Even Sir Edmund Hillary was depressed at what he had seen Mount Everest become," he said. "Some of the people climbing Everest aren't doing it out of a passion for mountaineering, but just because they want to say they climbed Everest," because "a selfie from the summit of Makalu" won't "get Everest levels of Instagram love." But Oliver had a solution, plus a few interludes from sherpa Rick Astley and some NSFW language. Watch below. Peter Weber

2:36 a.m.

An unidentified U.S. service member was found dead near Ajo, Arizona, on Sunday, according to a statement from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, home of U.S. Northern Command. It is the second such death this month. On June 1, U.S. Army PFC Steven Hodges was found dead near Nogales. Both service members were assigned to the Southwest Border Support Mission, President Trump's deployment of several thousand active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. Both deaths are under investigation, but foul play isn't suspected in either case.

Hodges had been assigned to "Task Force Red Lion," a mobile surveillance operation, with the 1st "Tomahawk" Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, part of the 7th Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. His body was found on federal land, but few other details have been reported. It is also unclear what the unidentified service member was doing when he died. Ajo is the nearest community to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where the Department of Homeland Security plans to build new border fencing.

Other than hanging razor wire through border towns and spending the summer painting border fencing near Calexico, California, to improve its "aesthetic appearance," it's not clear what U.S. troops are doing at the U.S. border. In Arizona, the Tucson Sentinel reports, "the weather has been hot and dry: temperatures in Arizona's west deserts peaked at about 98 degrees on Sunday, with humidity below 10 percent." Peter Weber

1:29 a.m.

Two days after winning the 2016 presidential election, President Trump fired his transition chief, former Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), and his new transition team discarded Christie's copious files and instead outsourced its nominee vetting to the Republican National Committee. Axios obtained RNC vetting files on about 100 people, many of whom joined the Trump administration as Cabinet secretaries and agency heads.

Some of the young RNC staffers who "scrubbed" the public records of potential Trump hires told Axios the rushed process was "a disaster" and "a clown show" focused on making sure a potential nominee for an often unspecified position was at least "not a kid-toucher." Here are some of the "red flags" the vetters highlighted:

1. Kris Kobach: A potential Homeland Security secretary pick, Kobach's file notes that critics said he spoke at "a 'White Nationalist' conference," "tied him to white supremacist groups," and said "Kobach's college thesis praised Apartheid in South Africa." Kobach headed Trump's short-lived voter fraud commission and was most recently considered for an "immigration czar" post.

2. David Petraeus: The former general was being considered for secretary of state or national security adviser, and along with flagging that "Petraeus has indicated that the U.S. should deal with Russia with a stronger hand" and said "Brexit would 'damage Western security,'" his vetting file warns: "Petraeus is opposed to torture."

3. Rudy Giuliani: Giuliani, now Trump's personal lawyer and at the time under consideration for secretary of state, got his own 25-page RNC dossier on his business ties and "foreign entanglements."

4. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: Gabbard (D-Hawaii), now running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, was vetted for a position in Trump's administration, reportedly Veterans Affairs secretary. Her file notes that she backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and "has given Democrats as many headaches" as "blessings."

5. Laura Ingraham: Trump considered the Fox News host as White House press secretary, and among other controversies, the RNC flagged Ingraham's "Nazi salute controversy," her suggestion "that the Clintons were going to kill FBI Director James Comey," and her stated views that "illegal immigrants who attempt to re-enter the country should be 'shot'" and "people should wear diapers instead of sharing bathrooms with transgender people."

Axios had Chris Christie read his own file on-camera for its Sunday evening HBO show.

Read more tidbits, and responses from the White House and various vetted people, at Axios. Peter Weber

June 23, 2019

Despite Jake Tapper's best efforts, Vice President Mike Pence would not answer his question on Sunday's State of the Union about whether the "human-induced climate emergency" is a threat to the United States.

The CNN host posed the query in response to the Trump administration's decision last week to roll back former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, which worked to reduce pollution from coal plants. After Tapper asked the first time, Pence said the administration will "always follow the science," and Tapper quickly interrupted to say "the science says it is."

Tapper kept asking the question, reminding Pence that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say it's a threat, but Pence continued to dodge, instead saying multiple times the administration is "not going to raise utility rates" and criticizing the Green New Deal.

Pence finally said he believes the U.S. is "making great progress reducing carbon emissions," with the country having "the cleanest air and water in the world," which caused Tapper to start laughing. "That is not true," he said. "We don't have the cleanest air and water in the world. We don't." Tapper then invited Pence to "get back to me with some statistics that show it." Catherine Garcia

June 23, 2019

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) took a hit on Sunday, losing the re-run of Istanbul's mayoral election.

Preliminary results show Ekrem Imamoglu of the secularist Republican People's Party, Turkey's main opposition party, won 54 percent of the vote. Imamoglu also won the first election in March, but the results were thrown out after AKP claimed there were irregularities. On Sunday night, Imamoglu vowed to "work in harmony" with Erdogan, and said the people of Istanbul are "opening up a new page" and "on this new page, there will be justice, equality, love."

Many view Erdogan, who served as Istanbul's mayor in the 1990s, as increasingly authoritarian, with little tolerance for opposing views. He once said "whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey," and experts say AKP's loss could lead to an early national election and some top leaders leaving the party. Istanbul is Turkey's largest city and its commercial hub. Catherine Garcia

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