September 28, 2020

President Trump paid no income tax in 11 of the 18 years from 2000 to 1018, The New York Times reported late Sunday, citing copies of tax records it had legally obtained from unidentified sources, but he did pay $750 in both 2016 and 2017.

But he did report paying taxes on a number of his overseas ventures, which brought in $73 million in revenue (not profit) in his first two years in the White House, the Times reports. But "in 2017, the president's $750 contribution to the operations of the U.S. government was dwarfed by the $15,598 he or his companies paid in Panama, the $145,400 in India and the $156,824 in the Philippines."

A Trump organization lawyer pointed out to the Times that Trump did pay more in federal taxes — likely meaning Social Security and Medicare contributions and taxes for his household employees. And the Times notes that Trump "paid substantial federal income taxes for the first time in his life," $70.1 million, from 2005 to 2007, when the tax-reducing power of nearly a billion in 1995 losses dried up and he started earning serious money from The Apprentice and related licensing deals — but he recouped most of that money, plus interest, starting in 2010 by taking advantage of an obscure provision of a bill passed after the 2008 financial meltdown.

The $72.9 million tax refund Trump eventually secured has been under scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service and the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation since 2011, and if the audit finds he cheated — the Times suggests that's at least possible — he could owe the U.S. government more than $100 million.

Trump's foreign business entanglements also pose a long list of potential conflicts of interest, both foreign and domestic, and Turkey has been particularly aggressive in wielding its leverage, the Times reports. The good news for Trump is that the records the Times obtained don't "reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia." Read more (in depth or in brief) at The New York Times. Peter Weber

6:35 p.m.

Hurricane Zeta made landfall near Cocodrie, Louisiana, on Wednesday evening as a Category 2 storm with winds of 110 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.

Cocodrie is on the state's southeastern coast, about 65 miles south-southwest of New Orleans. Zeta is a fast moving storm, going north-northeast at almost 25 mph, CNN reports. It is the fifth named storm to hit Louisiana this season.

Forecasters say Zeta will likely move inland, passing over or near New Orleans, and residents are being urged to stay inside. Zeta crossed Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula on Tuesday, where its heavy winds brought down trees and power lines. Catherine Garcia

Opinion
5:48 p.m.

If President Trump's decision to strip protections in Alaska's Tongass National Forest was little more than a troll — well, he got us. For environmentalists and climate science believers, the announcement Wednesday was received with about the same disbelief, horror, and revulsion as watching someone kick a kitten; the "lungs of the country," "America's Amazon," the "crown jewel" of the National Forest Service, now available for more than nine million acres of timber harvest, much of it old growth.

While Trump has touted his environmental record in his re-election campaign — by signing the Great American Outdoors Act and mispronouncing "Yosemite," among other things — his four years in office have been distinguished by what seems to be a personal vendetta against former President Barack Obama, including unsuccessfully trying to overturn his predecessor's offshore drilling ban in the Arctic and reducing the size of Bears Ears National Monument. But the Tongass decision in particular stands out as tragic foolishness, not only because it is one of the most extraordinary and precious swaths of land in the nation, but because there's no other even plausibly defensible rationale for the move.

Home to ancient and threatened Alaska yellow cedars, the fascinating Alexander Archipelago wolves, all five species of salmon, some 10,000 bald eagles, and the eerily beautiful spirit bear, the Tongass is the largest temperate rainforest in the world, a carbon sink that stores "the equivalent of about 8 percent of the carbon stored in all the forests of the lower 48 states combined," The New York Times reports. The Trump administration has been attempting to open the forest up to logging for years now, to much outcry — including my own — while ostensibly helping local politicians who say the timber would help the state's economy.

But timber accounts for just 1 percent of the regional employment, The Washington Post reports. Keeping the Tongass wild and untapped might actually help the economy more, with fishing and tourism accounting for 26 percent of the jobs in the area. In fact, 96 percent of comments during the U.S. Forest Service's review of the plan opposed opening the forest up; likewise, all five Alaska Native tribal nations withdrew from cooperating earlier this month, citing a refusal to "endow legitimacy upon a process that has disregarded our input at every turn." And as Ken Rait, the project director of the nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts, told The Guardian, "between taxpayer expenses and the fact that the majority of logs cut on the Tongass will be exported to China and other Pacific Rim nations, [Wednesday's] decision isn't going to have robust economic benefits to anyone in this country."

Short of any material justification, the Tongass decision is, in effect, destroying the planet to own the libs. Good luck with that. Jeva Lange

5:10 p.m.

As COVID-19 cases climb in the United States, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 just took a dive during their worst day in several months.

The Dow on Wednesday fell 943 points as the S&P 500 dropped 3.5 percent, the worst day for each since June 11, CNBC reports. The Nasdaq Composite also had its worst day since early September, dropping 3.7 percent, according to CNN.

Less than a week ahead of the 2020 presidential election, the Dow is "down nearly 9 percent since Sept. 2.," The Washington Post writes.

This comes as the U.S. has been seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases, recently setting a record for most new infections reported in one day with over 83,000. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, this week warned that the U.S. is "getting worse and worse" and that "the numbers speak for themselves." Brendan Morrow

4:42 p.m.

France is returning to a nationwide lockdown amid rising coronavirus infections, President Emmanuel Macron announced Wednesday.

The restrictions, which are set to kick in at midnight Thursday and will last until mid-December with period reviews before then, are similar to the country's previous lockdown this spring — people will only be able to leave their home for work purposes if remote work is not feasible, buy essential goods, seek medical attention, and exercise for one hour a day. Unlike the earlier iteration, however, schools and nurseries will remain open for the most part. Funerals and visits to care homes will be allowed, as well.

Several European countries are experiencing a second wave of rising, often record-breaking coronavirus infections along with France, including Germany, whose Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday also announced new restrictions aimed at curbing the virus' spread. For at least the next four weeks, restaurants, bars, and other leisure and cultural facilities will be ordered to close, and contacts are to be reduced to a maximum of two households and no more than 10 people. Like France, schools and nurseries will remain open, as will the majority of businesses and work places, The Guardian reports. Read more at The Guardian. Tim O'Donnell

Opinion
4:30 p.m.

How many people watched Borat Subsequent Moviefilm last weekend? The answer — or rather, non-answer — to that question might be one of the most pivotal of the year for a pandemic-rattled Hollywood.

When a film is released theatrically, everything from its box office sales to the number of screens it appeared on is public information, which allows industry insiders and moviegoers to easily distinguish a bomb from a blockbuster. But that's not the case when movies are released straight to streamers, as almost every movie has been since the start of the pandemic. Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video, by contrast, are notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to sharing honest information about viewership on their platforms, an opacity that was obnoxious before but could be seriously detrimental to the industry now.

On Tuesday, Amazon announced that the Borat sequel drew "tens of millions" of viewers its opening weekend, a range that suggests everything from "pretty good" to "one of the best openings of all time." While Variety reported that TV analytics provider Samba TV estimated the film was watched by a more modest 1.6 million households, an Amazon spokeswoman further muddied the waters by saying that "the figure is incorrect" — while still declining to provide their own numbers.

The film industry has taken a big (and in some areas, potentially fatal) blow from the pandemic. But Amazon's decision to dance around the exact figures for Borat 2 only adds to the damage, because, as industry veteran Matthew Belloni pointed out on Twitter, those numbers might have helped "convince Hollywood it can successfully 'open' a big, broad movie."

Though digital box office revenue has trended down since the start of the pandemic, part of that is because of the quality of movies that have been sent straight to streamers, Bloomberg's Lucas Shaw has argued. Most studios are still clinging to their No Time to Dies, waiting for a time when they can make money again with a traditional theatrical release. Amazon's Borat 2 likely would have been a box office hit in Normal Times, too (the 2006 original broke box office records), and could have served as a bellwether for other studios about the state of the industry and willingness of audiences to pay for those "big, broad" movies.

There are understandable incentives for the big streamers to keep their performance numbers close to the chest. But these are exceptional times, and companies ought to face pressure to "agree on what metrics would be used" to report viewership, and "provide the information publicly," as CNBC has argued. Transparency has never been more important — or more vital to the survival of the industry. Jeva Lange

4:25 p.m.

The White House is just as impressed with the revelation of "Anonymous" as everyone else.

On Wednesday, former Homeland Security Chief of Staff Miles Taylor revealed he was the one who wrote a New York Times op-ed and a subsequent book detailing how he was part of a "quiet resistance" within the Trump administration. It wasn't exactly a surprising announcement considering Taylor had already spoken out against Trump, including at the Democratic National Convention two months ago.

As White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany made clear in a Wednesday statement, the Trump administration doesn't really care either. McEnany called Taylor a "low-level, disgruntled staffer" and slammed the Times' "appalling" decision to grant him anonymity.

White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah had a more succinct reaction to the news.

And Axios' Jonathan Swan, known for his tough questioning of Trump, outlined how Taylor's resistance didn't seem to be much of a resistance at all. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:13 p.m.

Over two years after an anonymous Trump administration official described an internal "resistance" to President Trump, their identity has been revealed.

Miles Taylor, former Department of Homeland Security chief of staff under Trump, in a statement provided to The New York Times and CNN on Wednesday revealed himself as the anonymous official who wrote a 2018 op-ed about being part of a "quiet resistance within the administration." Taylor also later anonymously published a book critical of Trump called A Warning.

"Too often in times of crisis, I saw Donald Trump prove he is a man without character, and his personal defects have resulted in leadership failures so significant that they can be measured in lost American lives," Taylor writes in his statement. "I witnessed Trump's inability to do his job over the course of two-and-a-half years. Everyone saw it, though most were hesitant to speak up for fear of reprisals."

Taylor goes on to defend his decision to remain anonymous until this point by saying that "issuing my critiques without attribution forced the president to answer them directly on their merits or not at all, rather than creating distractions through petty insults and name-calling." He also urges other Trump administration officials to speak out, writing, "it's time to come forward and shine a light on the discord that's infected our public discourse."

Though it was not known that Taylor was the anonymous official behind the Times op-ed and book, he has previously criticized Trump and endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Taylor denied he was the anonymous official in an August interview with CNN, telling Anderson Cooper, "I wear a mask for two things, Anderson. Halloween and pandemics. So no." Brendan Morrow

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