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Drugged driving surpasses drunken driving among drivers killed in crashes, report finds

(CNN)Driving under the influence of drugs was deadlier in 2015 than driving while drunk, a new report found. Still, some safety experts caution that drunken driving remains a bigger problem and say that drugged driving needs more research.

Positive drug tests were more common than the presence of alcohol among the fatally injured drivers who were tested in 2015, according to the report (PDF)released Wednesday by the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, a nonprofit funded by alcohol distillers.
Of those tested, 43% of motorists who died were under the influence of drugs, the report said. This number surpassed the 37% of motorists who died who tested positive for alcohol in the same year.
“Data in the report showed that for the first time, there are more dead drivers for which we have test results that are positive for drugs than there are who were positive for alcohol,” said James Hedlund, an independent safety expert with Highway Safety North in Ithaca, New York. The new report adds to earlier research conducted by Hedlund that addressed behavioral highway safety issues, including drug-impaired driving.
“As states across the country continue to struggle with drug-impaired driving, it’s critical that we help them understand the current landscape and provide examples of best practices so they can craft the most effective countermeasures” to combat the issue of drug-impaired driving, governors association Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said.

‘Drug impairment is a complicated topic’

Driving while impaired is illegal in all 50 states. However, laws and interpretations vary about the definition of drug impairment. Testing practices can also vary amongst states, and there are no uniform laws to determine how often testing is used and what drugs are screened for.
Of the more than 400 drugs that the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tracks, marijuana accounted for 35% of positive tests reported, the new research said. Although usage laws vary — marijuana for medical purposes is legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia, and laws permit recreational use in eight states and DC — driving while impaired at any level is illegal anywhere in the United States.
Amphetamines accounted for 9% of substances detected, and more than half of the positive tests in the report were caused by “other drugs.” These figures reveal the wide range of known and unknown substances that can contribute to drug impairment.
Currently, there are no drug field tests comparable to a preliminary alcohol screening using a breathalyzer. Law enforcement officials are trained to recognize signs of drug impairment and can make the decision to take a driver into custody for further testing.
“Drug impairment is a complicated topic,” Hedlund said. “Drugs can affect people in different ways. Some things make you super excited, and some things slow you down.”
The report acknowledged that “many officers are not trained to identify the signs and symptoms of drivers impaired by drugs other than alcohol.” The International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offer specialized training courses to teach law enforcement officials how to recognize the behavioral signs of drug impairment, but the courses are not required. Often, a full evaluation cannot be done during a roadside stop.
Officials hope that this report will bring more attention to the need for more training and resources to combat this problem. For drivers, Hedlund said, “it’s illegal to drive while impaired by drugs in the same way that it’s illegal to drive while impaired by alcohol. And you just plain shouldn’t do it.”

Alcohol: ‘Our biggest highway safety problem’

Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, is skeptical of the report’s findings and said alcohol remains the bigger concern.
“There’s no question that alcohol remains our biggest highway safety problem,” Rader said.
Although the impact of alcohol has been studied for decades, drug impairment and driving has only recently been studied, he said, and the current evidence is weak.
The report cautions that these data do not paint the whole picture. The authors note that only 57% of drivers who were killed in car accidents were tested for drugs. That figure, critics say, is reason enough to be wary of taking this conclusion too seriously.
“There are a couple of problems with drawing the conclusion that drugged driving is now somehow a bigger problem with alcohol,” Rader said. “For one, there isn’t very consistent testing for drivers who are killed in crashes with regard to drugs.”
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He’s concerned that the new report could detract from efforts to curb alcohol-impaired driving and shift funding instead toward driving under the influence of drugs. Nobody knows how to address the problem of drug-impaired drivers, he said.
“We don’t have a good handle on what to do about it, but we do know how to address alcohol impairment,” which remains a major problem, he said. “Another problem, particularly with marijuana, is that people often combine the two, so how do you separate them?”
Although critical of the report’s findings, Rader said there is no denying that drug-impaired driving is an issue, but “we need research.”
“If somebody’s impaired,” he said, “they are impaired.”
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5 more cases of measles in Minnesota include first outside Hennepin County

Somali leaders met Wednesday night in Minneapolis with public-health officials to talk about the current measles outbreak in the metro area. Among those presenting information was Asli Ashkir (at podium), a nurse and consultant with the Minnesota Department of Health.

State health officials reported five more cases of measles Thursday, including one in Stearns County that marked the first time the current outbreak has spread beyond Hennepin County.

A total of 29 children have now been sickened since the end of March, making it the largest measles outbreak in Minnesota since 1990.

Like others reported so far, the Stearns County case involves a Somali-American child. Public health investigators are trying to determine how the child became infected, and if the family made trips to the Twin Cities area and came in contact with the highly infectious disease.

“We are going to have to do more sleuthing to understand what the connection is with this child,” said Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director at the Minnesota Health Department.

Ehresmann said the department had considered it “highly possible that we would see cases spreading” beyond the metro area, particularly to areas such as Stearns County and Olmsted County, that have relatively large Somali-American populations. Low measles vaccination rates within the Somali community make them more vulnerable to catching the virus.

As recently as 2004, vaccination rates for young Somali-Minnesotan children matched those of the general population, but they plummeted starting a few years later, when an apparent rash of autism cases among Somali children triggered a scare over the vaccine. By 2016, measles vaccination rates for Somali 2-year-olds in Minnesota had fallen to just 42 percent.

In the Stearns County case, however, the child had been vaccinated for measles — but had received only one of the two recommended shots. One dose is 93 percent effective against the disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while two shots provide 97 percent protection.

It is possible that even with just one shot the child will be less likely to infect others, said Ehresmann.

But the Stearns County case will require health officials to open up a whole new investigative arena, as investigators will need to catalog who came into contact with the child in Stearns County, including people at child care centers, homes and medical facilities.

Finding unvaccinated people is important, because even a brief exposure can cause sickness. The measles virus can linger in the air after an infected person has a left a room and still infect someone who does not have measles immunity protection.

That’s one reason why it is difficult to predict how many cases this outbreak will produce, though officials have said they expect the case count to continue rising in the near future. It has already outpaced a 2011 outbreak that sickened 26.

11 hospitalized

So far, the outbreak has been generally been confined to Somali-American children aged 5 and younger. Public health investigators have determined that 25 were unvaccinated. They are seeking immunization records for another three cases and are trying to pin down the race and ethnicity for four of the latest cases.

In Hennepin County, investigators have identified at least five child care centers where exposures might have occurred. Families of children attending those centers have been contacted, and if anyone is found to be unvaccinated, they are being asked to stay at home so they do not infect others.

Of the 29 current cases, 11 have required hospitalization.

The original source of the outbreak remains a mystery, but state health officials suspect it was imported by a traveler from a foreign country. Measles was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000 and no longer occurs naturally here.

Measles often starts with coldlike symptoms of cough, fever, runny nose and watery eyes, and eventually a rash spreads over the entire body. But it can produce severe symptoms in young children, and in extreme cases can produce lasting lung and brain damage, and even death.

Company recalls organic dog food that may contain euthanasia drug

The recall affects Party Animal’s Cocolicious Beef & Turkey dog food as well as its Cocolicious Chicken & Beef dog food.

The recall affects Party Animal’s Cocolicious Beef & Turkey dog food as well as its Cocolicious Chicken & Beef dog food.  (iStock)

An organic pet food company was forced to issue a recall after samples of its product tested positive for a drug commonly used for euthanasia. The recall affects Party Animal’s Cocolicious Beef & Turkey dog food as well as its Cocolicious Chicken & Beef dog food.

A statement on the Food and Drug Administration’s website said the company was notified after a customer in Texas presented samples to a testing lab that came back positive for pentobarbital. Exposure to pentobarbital, a barbiturate, could prove fatal for a pet. It is routinely used by veterinarians for the euthanasia of dogs, cats and horses.

NATIONWIDE READY-TO-EAT CHICKEN BREAST RECALL; MAY BE UNDERCOOKED

The post on the FDA’s website said the beef and turkey variety can be identified by product number 0136E15204 04 with a best by date of July 2019, and the chicken and beef variety is labeled with a 0134E15237 13 product number and has a best by date of August 2019.

Whether you’re polished pastels or a pop of refreshing red, we have color ideas and inspiration for every room. Plus, our curat…

The products are sold in 13-ounce cans and were distributed nationwide.

 

“Party Animal wishes to emphasize that we have submitted many recent lots of our beef flavors for testing and all have tested negative for any pentobarbital,” the company said on the FDA website. “We have also had extensive discussions with our manufacturer regarding the potential cause of the reported contamination of the 2015 lots, and we will continue with such discussions even as we await testing results for the 2015 lots. In order to ensure adherence to our commitment to the safety of pets, we are also actively re-examining our manufacturing processes.”

No Bones About It: Scientists Recover Ancient DNA From Cave Dirt

Sifting through teaspoons of clay and sand scraped from the floors of caves, German researchers have managed to isolate ancient human DNA — without turning up a single bone.

Their new technique, described in a study published on Thursday in the journal Science, promises to open new avenues of research into human prehistory and was met with excitement by geneticists and archaeologists.

“It’s a bit like discovering that you can extract gold dust from the air,” said Adam Siepel, a population geneticist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

“An absolutely amazing and exciting paper,” added David Reich, a genetics professor at Harvard who focuses on ancient DNA.

Until recently, the only way to study the genes of ancient humans like the Neanderthals and their cousins, the Denisovans, was to recover DNA from fossil bones.

But they are scarce and hard to find, which has greatly limited research into where early humans lived and how widely they ranged. The only Denisovan bones and teeth that scientists have, for example, come from a single cave in Siberia.

Looking for these genetic signposts in sediment has become possible only in the last few years, with recent developments in technology, including rapid sequencing of DNA.

An entrance to the archaeological site of Chagyrskaya Cave, Russia. The only Denisovan bones and teeth that scientists have come from a single cave in Siberia.CreditRichard G. Roberts

Although DNA sticks to minerals and decayed plants in soil, scientists did not know whether it would ever be possible to fish out gene fragments that were tens of thousands of years old and buried deep among other genetic debris.

Bits of genes from ancient humans make up just a minute fraction of the DNA floating around in the natural world.

But the German scientists, led by Matthias Meyer at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, have spent years developing methods to find DNA even where it seemed impossibly scarce and degraded.

“There’s been a real revolution in technology invented by this lab,” Dr. Reich said. “Matthias is kind of a wizard in pushing the envelope.”

Scientists began by retrieving DNA from ancient bones: first Neanderthals, then Denisovans.

To identify the Denisovans, Svante Paabo, a geneticist at the Planck Institute and a co-author of the new paper, had only a child’s pinkie bone to work with.

His group surprised the world in 2010 by reporting that it had extracted DNA from the bone, finding that it belonged to a group of humans distinct from both Neanderthals and modern humans.

But that sort of analysis is limited by the availability of fossil bones.

“In a lot of cases, you can get bones, but not enough,” said Hendrik Poinar, an evolutionary geneticist at McMaster University.

“If you just have one small piece of bone from one site, curators do not want you to grind it up.”

Finding and analyzing ancient DNA in dirt is far more difficult than getting it out of bone. The idea was not new, noted Viviane Slon, a member of Dr. Meyer’s group and the first author of the new paper.

Other groups of researchers have found DNA in sediment, including Dr. Poinar and Michael Hofreiter, his former student. Using a tablespoon of dirt from a cave in Colorado, his team discovered traces from 16 animal species that had lived there. It took two weeks to do it.

Researchers who had scoured that cave for bones had spent 20 years there and had sifted through two metric tons of dirt to find bones, teeth or skin of 20 animal species — including the 16 that Dr. Poinar’s group later identified.

The new study involved searching for ancient DNA in four caves in Eurasia where humans were known to have lived between 14,000 and 550,000 years ago.

Dr. Meyer and his colleagues figured out which DNA in the cave sediment was prehistoric by looking for telltale signs of degradation at the ends of the molecules.

They then plucked out DNA from Neanderthals and Denisovans by using molecular hooks to snare genes in mitochondria — the cells’ energy factories — that are unique to these humans.

The scientists also built a robotic system to analyze the samples quickly; the old way, pipetting by hand, required several days to analyze only a fraction as many samples.

The group needed that efficiency. From different dirt samples, they recovered between 5,000 and 2.8 million DNA fragments. The number of DNA fragments per sample that were from ancient humans was minuscule and ranged from 0 to 8,822, depending on the site in the cave.

Svante Paabo, a geneticist at the Planck Institute and a co-author of the new paper, showing the location of a sediment sample collected from a layer where a 560,000-year-old human tooth was discovered in 2015.CreditChristian Perrenoud

The discovery that it is now possible to do all this, Dr. Reich said, is just “an amazing, amazing thing.” The questions that can now be addressed seem almost endless.

Researchers could feasibly begin searching for bones in caves where DNA in the dirt indicates habitation by ancient humans. And they are likely to begin learning much more about human prehistory.

The Denisovans, for example: Tiny pieces of genes inherited from them have been found in modern humans in Papua New Guinea. How did they get there? And why these people, and not humans closer to Siberia?

With the new technique, one way to try to verify the presence of humans would be to look for ancient human DNA at the site where the bones were found or in areas nearby.

“A natural thing to do is start looking in sediments,” said Jonathan Pritchard, a professor of genetics and biology at Stanford.

Another application of the discovery, said Dr. Reich, would be to start looking for evidence of ancient human DNA in open air sites, instead of looking for bones in caves.

“If it worked, it would provide a much richer picture of the geographic distribution and migration patterns of ancient humans, one that was not limited by the small number of bones that have been found,” he said.

“That would be a magical thing to do.”

Microsoft 3Q17: Cloud, Office, Windows strong, Surface slumps

In its third quarter of its 2017 financial year, Microsoft posted revenue of $22.1 billion, up 8 percent year-on-year, with an operating income of $5.6 billion, up 6 percent on a year ago, net income of $5.7 billion, up 28 percent, and earnings per share of $0.61, an increase of 30 percent over the same quarter a year ago.

As ever, Microsoft also offered alternative figures that book Windows 10 revenue up front instead of amortized over several years, and which hold exchange rates constant to remove the impact of rate fluctuations year-on-year (which gives some indication of year-to-year changes in actual sales transactions, if not of money in the bank). This quarter the currency differences are for the most part small, with an impact of only about 1 percent (the dollar was weaker than Microsoft expected), but Windows revenue deferral continues to be significant. Under these adjusted figures, revenue was $23.6 billion, up 7 percent, operating income was $7.1 billion, up 5 percent, net income was $5.7 billion, an increase of 16 percent, and earnings per share were $0.73, a 19 percent increase.

Microsoft currently has three reporting segments: Productivity and Business Processes (covering Office, Exchange, SharePoint, Skype, and Dynamics), Intelligent Cloud (including Azure, Windows Server, SQL Server, Visual Studio, and Enterprise Services), and More Personal Computing (covering Windows, hardware, and Xbox, as well as search and advertising).

The period January 1 through March 31 represented the first full quarter of Microsoft’s ownership of LinkedIn. LinkedIn’s numbers are accumulated within the Productivty and Business Processes group, but Microsoft is also breaking them out separately. The social networking site had revenue of $1.0 billion, with a cost of revenue of $0.4 billion and operating expenses of $1.0 billion, for an operating loss of $0.4 billion.

The Productivity group as a whole reported revenue of $7.96 billion, up 22 percent year-on-year. $1.0 billion of that revenue, or 15 of those 22 points of growth, came from LinkedIn, so even the longstanding businesses did well and were up 7 percent. Operating income was $2.8 billion, down 7 percent. Without LinkedIn’s contribution, it would have been up 6 percent. Commercial Office products and services revenue was up 7 percent overall. On the upside, Office 365 revenue was up 45 percent, and the number of commercial Office 365 seats grew by 35 percent, for the first time passing 100 million monthly active users. Commercial non-cloud Office revene was down 13 percent, however, as a result of the shift to cloud products.

On the consumer side, overall Office and Office 365 revenue was up 15 percent, with 26.2 million Office 365 subscribers. This is up 1.3 million quarter-on-quarter.

The Cloud group reported revenue of $6.8 billion, up 11 percent year on year, with operating income of $2.2 billion, unchanged year-on-year. The growth was attributed to growth in both cloud services and server products; the flat operating income due to increased operating expenses in sales, engineering, and developer engagement. Server product revenue was up 6 percent, and Azure revenue was up 93 percent. Enterprise Services revenue, however, was down 1 percent, due to a decline in support agreements for Windows Server 2003, partially offset by growth in consulting services.

Across enterprise and consumer, the cloud business remains a strong growth area, although the continued near-doubling of Azure revenue continues to be suggestive that the absolute revenue of that group is low. In aggregate, the company claims that its cloud annualized run rate is now $15.2 billion (up $1.2 billion on the previous quarter).

The Personal Computing group reported revenue of $8.9 billion, down 7 percent, with operating income of $2.1 billion, an increase of 20 percent. The Windows numbers suggest a stabilization of the PC market: Windows Pro OEM revenue was up 10 percent, and non-Pro down just 1 percent. In both cases, Microsoft says that this is outperforming (respectively) the commercial and consumer PC markets. Windows subscription revenue was up 6 percent. Overall gaming revenue was up 4 percent, on the back of 7 percent growth in Xbox software sales, and Xbox Live monthly active users were up 13 percent. Search revenue was also up 8 percent, thanks to higher search volume and higher revenue per search.

But the hardware story was unhappy. Phone revenue was down $0.7 billion; it’s now essentially wiped out, with Microsoft reporting “no material phone revenue” in the quarter, and “negligible” revenue expected for next quarter.

Surface revenue was also down, falling 26 percent due to increased competition and what Microsoft called “product end-of-lifecycle dynamics.” The 10Q document spells this out rather more clearly: fewer Surface devices were sold.

This is not altogether surprising. On the one hand, the mainstay product of the Surface line—the Surface Pro 4—is looking increasingly long in the tooth. It hasn’t been updated to use a Kaby Lake processor, nor to support USB Type-C or Thunderbolt 3. When Surface Pro was a new product, this might have been tolerable, because there were few similar systems on the market. Today, however, companies including Samsung, HP, Dell, and Lenovo all offer broadly comparable 2-in-1 machines.

Surface is looking quite ignored. Microsoft is having an event in New York City next week, and though the event has an education focus, there is some hardware element to it, but sources close to the matter tell us that neither a refreshed Surface Pro nor a refreshed Surface Book are going to be launched next week. With its hardware looking increasingly long in the tooth, and competition better than ever, further decline of the Surface business seems inevitable. Microsoft’s outlook for the next quarter concurs, though it does not expect the decline to be as steep as it was this quarter.

Overall, the quarter told a similar story to previous ones. The transition from perpetual licenses to cloud subscriptions is steady, and Microsoft’s cloud services are strong. But the numbers continue to have frustrating gaps. For example, the aggregation of Office 365 revenue—which spans not just Exchange, SharePoint, and other cloud-hosted services, but also (for many subscribers) on-premises Office 2016 ProPlus software—with Azure revenue means that two very different things are being combined. Microsoft is continuing to build large, expensive datacenters dotted around the world, but there’s no clear reporting of what the associated capital and operational expenditure is. Nor is there any good indication of cloud revenue (and expenses) are split between Azure, Office 365, Dynamics 365, Bing, and Xbox Live.

As such, it continues to be difficult to tell whether the cloud business is strong across the board, or if the revenue growth is primarily driven by a move from perpetual Office licenses to recurring subscriptions. With large scale movement from on-premises installations to the cloud, we’d expect to see some degree of cannibalization between Office 365 and on-premises Exchange and SharePoint, and Azure and on-premises Windows Server and SQL Server. Such trade-offs won’t be one-for-one—companies may well add new cloud workloads in addition to, rather than instead of, their on-premises deployments—but we’d certainly expect to see some movement. Thus far, it’s not clear that we are. Azure is a solid cloud platform with a number of compelling features; we’re just left with little idea of how big it actually is.

Trump Tax Plan Would Shift Trillions From U.S. Coffers to the Richest

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s proposal to slash individual and business taxes and erase a surtax that funds the Affordable Care Act would amount to a multitrillion-dollar shift from federal coffers to America’s richest families and their heirs, setting up a politically fraught battle over how best to use the government’s already strained resources.

The outline that Mr. Trump offered on Wednesday — less a tax overhaul plan than a list of costly cuts with no price tags attached, rushed out by a president staring down his 100-day mark in office — calls for tax reductions for individuals of every income level as well as businesses large and small.

But the vast majority of benefits would accrue to the highest earners and largest holders of wealth, according to economists and analysts, accounting for a lopsided portion of the proposal’s costs.

“The only Americans who are very clear winners under the new system are the wealthiest,” said Edward D. Kleinbard, a law professor at the University of Southern California and former chief of staff of Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation, which estimates the revenue effects of tax proposals.

Repealing the estate tax, for example, would affect just 5,300 or so fortunes a year. For 2017, couples can shield up to $11 million of their estates from any taxation, leaving only the largest inheritances subject to taxation. Repealing the estate tax alone would cost an estimated $174.2 billion over a decade, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center said.

Reducing the rate on capital gains, noncorporate business taxes and those in the highest bracket, as well as repealing the alternative minimum tax, would also ease the burden on wealthier Americans. So would the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s 3.8 percent surtax on the investment income of high earners, put in place to subsidize health coverage for low-income Americans.

“These are all afflictions of the affluent,” Mr. Kleinbard said.

There is no way to know how the mathematics of the proposal would work, since the White House offered no cost estimates, no detail about which incomes would be taxed at what levels and no information about tax deductions or other breaks that might be eliminated to make up for the lost revenue.

On Thursday, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, suggested that tax benefits for retirement savings would be rolled back to mitigate the cost of the tax cuts, the kind of tough decision that makes a rewrite of the tax code so politically difficult. But within minutes, White House officials said Mr. Spicer had misspoken.

Officials instead said specifics would come later, as negotiations unfolded with members of Congress to draft legislation.

The administration’s silence on many crucial details of the proposal was by design, to leave room for what promise to be intense negotiations with lawmakers in Congress, said Rohit Kumar, the leader of PwC’s Washington National Tax Services and a former senior Republican Senate aide.

Yet without specifics, he added, “you can’t make anything but a wild guess on what the distributional effects of the proposal would be.”

“What the administration put out yesterday is all of the good news,” Mr. Kumar said. “They’ve withheld on the bad news.”

But estimates of the impacts for some of the cuts that were outlined Wednesday, such as the estate tax and alternative minimum tax repeals, can be made, and they run directly counter to the populist themes that animated Mr. Trump’s campaign. He has often stated his concern for ordinary working men and women who he contends were forgotten under previous administrations but have risen to the top of the priority list under his leadership.

Many economists who analyzed a similar plan Mr. Trump proposed during his presidential campaign found that it would have disproportionately helped the richest. William G. Gale, an economist at the Brookings Institution in Washington, estimated that just over 50 percent of the benefits of that proposal would have gone to the top 1 percent of taxpayers.

The new proposal “loses probably something in the neighborhood of $5 trillion in revenue over 10 years with regressive tax cuts that exacerbate the inequalities that already exist in our economy,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who was a top economist in the Obama administration.

Mr. Trump’s economic team argues that there is no disconnect; the tax reductions they are seeking, they argue, will ultimately help all Americans, including the poorest, by spurring growth that will translate into more jobs and better wages.

Still, it seems almost inevitable that the blueprint, should it eventually yield legislation, would violate the vow Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, made that the administration would provide “no absolute tax cut for the upper class.”

That axiom, uttered by Mr. Mnuchin in November and quickly named the “Mnuchin rule” by skeptical Democrats, was based on his insistence that any tax reductions at the top would be matched by the elimination of deductions and loopholes.

“It is hard to know what the overall effects would be, but a plan that is intended to reduce taxes on business income and investment income is going to provide substantial benefits to wealthier individuals, and the bulk of the benefits in this plan would go to them,” said Ed Lorenzen, a senior adviser for the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a fiscal policy education group. “It would probably work out to be a significant shift in the distribution of the tax code.”

One major reason is Mr. Trump’s idea to allow the income of owner-operated companies, including his real estate concern, hedge funds and large partnerships, to be taxed at a 15 percent rate — the same rate corporations would pay under his plan — rather than at the individual income tax rate, which now tops out at 39.6 percent and would be set at 35 percent by Mr. Trump.

That would potentially allow doctors, lawyers and others who are part of such firms to structure their compensation as business rather than personal income and effectively enjoy a substantial tax cut. The Tax Policy Center estimated last year that the proposal would cost $1.5 trillion over a decade.

Higher earners also appear likely to reap the greatest benefit from repealing the alternative minimum tax, which is set at a marginal rate of 28 percent and falls most heavily on those who earn between $250,000 and $1 million. In 2013, President Barack Obama and Congress reached agreement on a “fix” that shielded middle-class families from the tax. So any repeal now would benefit wealthier taxpayers.

Only a fifth of taxpayers who earn above $1 million were affected by the provision, a parallel tax system that limits the deductions and other tax breaks available to them, in part because interest and investment income are exempt.

A glimpse of Mr. Trump’s 2005 tax returns revealed that the alternative minimum tax cost him roughly $31 million by setting a floor that even a stack of individual loopholes could not reduce. Repealing it would cost $412.8 billion over a decade, the Tax Policy Center has estimated.

At the same time, lower- and middle-income families could be in a worse position. The White House proposes to reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three: 10, 25 and 35 percent. But no one yet knows where the income cutoff lines are being drawn. People who end up being pushed into a lower bracket would be better off, but those kicked into a higher bracket would not be.

Families with after-tax income between roughly $19,000 and $76,000, for example, are now in the 15 percent marginal tax bracket, which is slated for elimination.

“That’s where the middle of America is,” Mr. Kleinbard said. While some may drop into the new 10 percent bracket, others could be nudged up into the 25 percent range.

Increasing the standard deduction to about $24,000 for couples might also appear to help most families, but that is not necessarily the case, Mr. Kleinbard pointed out. Larger families, which now benefit from being able to add a deduction for every additional member of their household, could lose out.

“At the bottom end, the typical family will be worse off if personal exemptions go away,” he said.

Trump Can’t Win His Battle Against the Judges

President Donald J. Trump is fuming at yet another federal judge. Earlier this week, San Francisco District Judge William H. Orrick temporarily enjoined the Trump administration’s simultaneously grandiose and ultimately toothless plan to strip federal funding from sanctuary cities. The president, as is his wont, apparently decided it’s pointless to threaten and undermine an individual jurist when he could go after an entire federal appellate court. So off he went on a boilerplate Twitter rant in which he wrongly blamed the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for his loss at the trial court level; wrongly characterized that appellate court’s reversal record; and wrongly faulted a city and county in California for “judge shopping” (not an actual legal term) for opting to file in the jurisdiction in which they exist, as opposed to filing in, say, Texas or Georgia, where they do not exist. (Circuits are geographic, not ideological.) No matter what you do to the 9th Circuit, California will still be California. And Trump’s fury at the 9th Circuit ignores the fact that he has also been thwarted by federal judges on courts in various other jurisdictions, including the 2nd and 4th Circuits, where thinking jurists also roam free.

Dahlia LithwickDAHLIA LITHWICK

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate, and hosts the podcast Amicus.

Never one to let actual facts or geographic reality stand between himself and his grudges, Trump escalated his war on the federal judicial branch Wednesday with an interview with the Washington Examiner in which he pledged to revisit plans to break up the 9thCircuit, presumably because he thinks breaking up a federal circuit court will magically change his badly drafted executive orders into legally sound ones: “Everybody immediately runs to the 9th Circuit. And we have a big country. We have lots of other locations. But they immediately run to the 9th Circuit. Because they know that’s like, semi-automatic,” Trump said. I am frankly shivering in delicious anticipation of Trump’s forthcoming executive order breaking up the 9th Circuit.

 

The president doesn’t seem to realize that his newest attack on the courts, by its own terms, simply strengthens Orrick’s case—that the order, read as Trump’s lawyers now suggest, reinforces the status quo, or, read as Trump characterizes it, is unconstitutional. Every time he talks, he makes things worse. Even his own administration formally stopped using the phrase Muslim ban when it tried to salvage his first executive order, so Trump’s decision to call it a “ban” again in his Wednesday tweetstorm and interviews just doesn’t much help him. Consider also that Trump’s defense of his vague and sloppily drafted executive orders consists, at bottom, of celebrating the fact that they are vague and sloppy. As he told the Examiner of his travel ban: “The language could not be any clearer. I mean, the language on the ban, it reads so easy that a reasonably good student in the first grade will fully understand it. And they don’t even mention the words in their rejection on the ban.”

Time and again, the president fails to comprehend that the reason a reasonably smart first-grader can understand his executive orders is because they appear to have been written by a different reasonably smart first-grader in orange crayon on the back side of a Red Lobster children’s menu. Time and again he asserts that there is some virtue in stripping away all nuance and legal meaning from his official acts as president. Time and again he complains bitterly when federal judges, searching for nuance and meaning, look to his words as a means of filling out the vague nonsense of his lawyers’ unerringly incoherent work product. First-grade homework may be clear to Trump, but that does not make it useful when it comes to practical application for governing our nation. As Garrett Epps notes, Trump’s sanctuary cities order fails even the most basic principles of interpretive clarity: “[I]t announces measures against ‘sanctuary jurisdictions’ but provides no definition of that term.” The fact that Trump’s own lawyers defended the order in court by saying it was essentially meaningless posturing helps him not at all. If the total force of the order was to create a “bully pulpit” that will later allow the president to say things that alternately have legal force or do not, Orrick cannot have been mistaken in enjoining it. Like the travel ban before it, the thing was nothing more than a Snapchat order, an executive action that could fade into nothing—or could be surreptitiously screenshotted to be preserved as something, at the president’s whim and pleasure.

Trump’s repeated—one might almost call them semiautomatic—presidential speech acts that contradict his formal orders as written cannot be excused as just further bloviating from an overtalkative and underinformed president. Both his travel ban and his sanctuary cities order have suffered in court because, in the absence of clarity and detail, federal judges may look to the president’s campaign promises, television appearances, and tweets to understand his intent in promulgating them. There is a robust and heated academic debate about whether judges should be in the business of probing what’s in the president’s heart of hearts, but wholly apart from that lies another problem: Do the president’s actual words matter at all? This isn’t about judicial efforts at mind-reading, a practice against which Justice David Souter famously warned about in McCreary County v. ACLU: a “judicial psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart of hearts.” What’s in the president’s heart of hearts is unknowable and not remotely interesting.

But what he actually says, when the words come out of his face? What he writes, be it in pen or Twitter? These are still presidential actions. The dangerous judicial psychologizing here would be for reviewing courts to attempt to differentiate between those instances when the president means what he says and when he’s just blathering recreationally. In Josh Blackman’s excellent meditation on this subject in Politico, he warns judges not to treat Trump differently than they would treat other presidents. I agree. And that means when Trump says things about his policy goals, presumably to bolster or refine or undermine his sloppy legal orders, they have some legal force. The alternative is a jurisprudential Escher staircase of meaningless words on paper, in an unending shifting dialogue of meaningless presidential words that shift from bird to fish and back again. Trump has always spoken publicly as if his words have not only no meaning but also no lasting consequences—walking back his preposterous claims as soon as they become untenable. But as president of the United States, his words have both meaning and consequences, whether he wants them to or not. And as Orrick pointed out: “While the President is entitled to highlight his policy priorities, an Executive Order carries the force of law.”

Here is one thing I can say for certain about judges: In addition to having a generalized and free-floating anxiety about public attacks on their legitimacy and authority, they resent deeply any efforts to say that words—the sole implement of their craft—have no meaning or that those meanings are inchoate and shifting and may expand or contract with the president’s hastily tweeted words or fleeting feelings. So when President Trump and his administration attack the judicial branch with authoritarian threats to break up the federal appeals court that has nothing to do with the ruling he disputes or insults individual “unelected” federal judges based on race or geographic region, sane judges, regardless of their personal politics, will recoil. They will feel, as Neil Gorsuch once put it, demoralized and disheartened by the president’s contempt. And when Trump insists on taking legal positions that suggest his executive orders are inherently lawful merely because he is the president or because their written-by-a-7-year-old clarity makes them obvious, that is an insult to the judicial project, a threat to both separation of powers and judicial intelligence.

But when the president takes the posture, time and again, that his words and orders have meanings that are fluid and mutable and known only to himself, it is a surefire way for him to continue to lose in court. Trump and his advisers have long smugly intoned that the media, the public, and Congress must learn to take his words “seriously but not literally.” Sadly for him, the courts have no choice but take his words literally. There is, literally, no other option.

The executive branch is more than a gauzy dream sequence of a four-year “bully pulpit.” The check on lawless, shifting bullying has always been and will continue to be the judicial branch.  But when the history books try to explain why the courts mattered most in the Trump era, I hope they note this as well: The judicial branch served as great check not only on Trumpism but for our sanity, each time a judge affirmed that, God be thanked, words and language still do have meaning and consequences.

Donald Trump’s Art Of The Retreat

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-art-of-the-retreat_us_590202bde4b0026db1def782

 

WASHINGTON ― Just three months into his presidency, Donald Trump’s bestselling The Art of the Deal might be due for a sequel: The Humility of the Failed Bluff.

The boastful businessman who claimed that his negotiating skills were unsurpassed appears to have met his match a number of times already.

Trump went from accusing the Chinese of manipulating their currency to agreeing that they didn’t. He has not made any visible progress in forcing Mexico to pay for a border wall. He was talked out of abandoning the North American Free Trade Agreement by the leaders of Mexico and Canada. And he was unable to bully Democrats into working with him to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

 

“He has folded like a lawn chair at the slightest hint of pressure, and he’s getting played like a violin by enemies like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un,” said Adam Jentleson, former deputy chief of staff to retired Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

In Mexico, the country Trump has vilified since the start of his campaign nearly two years ago, a senator told The New York Times that political leaders there have started to see Trump primarily as a “bluffer.”

“In front of a bluffer, you always have to maintain a firm and dignified position,” Armando Ríos Piter told the Times.

 

Some Trump supporters challenge that view. Michael Caputo, a western New York political consultant who worked for Trump’s primary campaign last year, said Ríos and others who underestimate Trump will be sorry.

“Bluffers win. And they win big,” Caputo said. “At the end of the poker game that the senator is speaking about, we’ll end up with more chips. The senator is going to be awful surprised and out of the game early.”

But other Trump allies, including radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, are starting to fret about Trump’s strategy. “I’m not happy to have to pass this on,” Limbaugh told his listeners earlier this week. “But it looks like, from here, right here, right now, it looks like President Trump is caving on his demand for a measly $1 billion in the budget for his wall on the border with Mexico.”

 

On the campaign trail, Trump marketed himself as the ultimate closer, a tough-talking businessman who could renegotiate trade deals and international agreements to better benefit the American worker. He regularly disparaged “weak” and “stupid” leaders in Washington for failing to accomplish what someone who had actually sat at a boardroom table could easily do once in the Oval Office.

JONATHAN DRAKE / REUTERS
Donald Trump promises to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico at a campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on March 9, 2016. His vows to make Mexico pay for it have fallen silent.

“I’ve watched the politicians. I’ve dealt with them all my life,” Trump said in 2015. “If you can’t make a good deal with a politician, then there’s something wrong with you. You’re certainly not very good.”

 

Nearly 100 days into his presidency, however, Trump appears to be finding the job is much tougher than he imagined. He has issued bold ultimatums in negotiations on health care, immigration and trade only to have to back down. While his predecessor once said he never bluffed on the world stage, Trump has embraced the risky tactic on both foreign and domestic fronts ― with little to show for it.

 

“People put in for the TV character of Donald Trump, a hyper-confident negotiator, a wheeler-dealer mogul,” said GOP strategist Rick Wilson. “The real Donald Trump is a 70-year-old man who inherited a bunch of money who’s been bankrupt four times and who basically turned into a branding company.… He’s intellectually sloppy and temperamentally unsuited for the job.”

 

In the health care debate, Trump has been all over the map. He first warned Republican lawmakers that he would leave the Affordable Care Act in place and move on to other priorities unless they approved a bill to repeal and replace it. The ultimatum failed to sway skeptical conservatives in the House, and lawmakers bolted town for a two-week recess without voting on the measure. He and his aides then threatened to reach out to Democrats to resuscitate his stalled agenda, but that too went out the window. This week, the administration is once again pushing for a party-line vote on an Obamacare repeal bill.

 

Trump’s bluster toward Democrats also fell flat. Earlier this month, he threatened to sabotage Obamacare if they didn’t agree to proposed changes regarding the law. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney announced Wednesday that the administration was considering cutting off crucial payments to health insurance companies ― a move that would be devastating for people who buy coverage on their own, rather than through employers. Later that day, less than 48 hours before a crucial government funding deadline, Trump backed down and said he would honor the payments after all.

People put in for the TV character of Donald Trump, a hyper-confident negotiator, a wheeler-dealer mogul.GOP strategist Rick Wilson

Trump didn’t fare any better on funding his proposed border wall, either. Facing likely odds of a government shutdown, the president on Tuesday backed off demands that Democrats agree to fund the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border ― the same wall he said Mexico would pay for on the campaign trail. Trump maintained that the wall remained a priority and that it would eventually get built. But it’s hard to see what more he could do to persuade Democrats to vote to fund the wall between now and the next round of budget talks in September.

 

That issue, because it was a promise repeated throughout his campaign, could do Trump serious damage if he doesn’t deliver, said Ari Fleischer, a press secretary to former President George W. Bush.

“I think Trump must demonstrate this year, not necessarily now, progress toward building the wall or his base will be disappointed,” Fleischer said. “He went too far in saying Mexico will pay for it, but I believe his base cares far more about it being built and a lot less about who pays.”

 

Trump’s efforts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement may yet bear fruit. His threat to pull the U.S. out of the agreement brought Canada and Mexico to the negotiating table this week. But it’s less clear what kind of concessions he’ll be able to wring out of them. Even Trump admitted that withdrawing from the trade pact would amount to a “shock to the system.”

“If I’m unable to make a fair deal for the United States, meaning a fair deal for our workers and our companies, I will terminate NAFTA. But we’re going to give renegotiation a good, strong shot,” he said at the White House on Thursday.

Berkeley protests peaceful as hundreds rally over Ann Coulter (White Slut, White Feminist)

BERKELEY, Calif. — Hundreds of people waving American flags and chanting “USA” held a raucous rally Thursday at a park in Berkeley — home of the free speech movement — to protest a canceled appearance by conservative commentator Ann Coulter, but the expected violence did not materialize.

Scores of officers in riot gear lined up in preparation for possible violence between supporters and opponents of Coulter, but there were no major confrontations, largely because members of an anti-fascist group did not show up in force.

Coulter did not appear at the rally or show up at the University of California, Berkeley despite hinting that she might “swing by to say hello” to her supporters. Coulter had said she was forced to cancel a speaking engagement at the school. University officials said they had been unable to find a suitable and safe spot for her to speak, and offered a May 2 date.

She did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press, but she told Fox News’s Tucker Carlson after the event that she wasn’t going to say anything more inflammatory than calling for enforcement of immigration laws.

“Well, my seditious and hateful speech, the theme of it, obviously, it was going to be a searingly brilliant speech on immigration,” she said.

Thursday’s tensions were another example of how Berkeley has emerged as a flashpoint for extreme left and right forces amid the debate over free speech in a place where the 1960s U.S. free speech movement began before spreading to college campuses across the nation.

Berkeley student Joseph Pagadara, 19, said he had worried about violence and added that the university is caught in the middle of the country’s political divide.

“Both sides are so intolerant of each other. We are a divided country. We need to listen to each other but we’re each caught in our own bubbles,” he said.

As for Coulter, Pagadara said the university should have let her speak. “Now she’s making herself look like the victim and Berkeley like the bad guys,” he said.

University police erected barricades and refused to let any protesters enter the campus. Six people were arrested; one for obstructing an officer and wearing a mask to evade police, and another for possessing a knife.

Several hundred people gathered for the afternoon event supporting Coulter at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in downtown Berkeley.

“It’s a shame that someone can’t speak in the home of the free speech movement,” said Wilson Grafstrom, an 18-year-old high school student from Menlo Park.

He wore a military grade helmet with a “Make America Great Again” sticker across the back, goggles, a gas mask and knee pads. He blamed people opposed to Coulter and President Donald Trump for forcing him to gear up for problems.

Many at the park about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the university’s main Sproul Plaza also wore such helmets and body armor. Some had “Build That Wall” or Trump stickers across their headgear. One man had duct tape reading “Berkeley” over his mouth.

While the afternoon rally ended without serious conflict, police at one point formed a human wall in the street separating anti-Trump protesters from the park where pro-Trump groups were gathered.

Anti-Coulter protesters at the park held a banner that read: “It’s not about ‘free speech,’ it’s about bigots trying to normalize hate.”

Earlier, dozens of police wearing flak jackets and carrying 40 mm launchers that shoot “foam batons” flanked Sproul Plaza while a small group of protesters condemning Coulter staged a rally outside campus.

Officers took selfies with students in an attempt to lighten the mood.

Gavin McInnes, co-founder of Vice Media and founder of the pro-Trump “Proud Boys,” spoke at the park gathering later in the day. He said America doesn’t have an obligation to take people from other countries.

“We are here because Ann Coulter got canceled,” he said. “She is one of the most inspiring writers in America today. She is an American hero.”

On its Facebook page, the group calls itself a fraternal organization aimed at “reinstating a spirit of Western chauvinism during an age of globalism and multiculturalism.”

 

University officials said they feared violence on campus if Coulter spoke, citing “very specific intelligence” of threats that could endanger her and students. In a letter to the campus Wednesday, Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks said the university is committed to defending free speech but also to protecting its students.

“This is a university, not a battlefield,” Dirks wrote.

Earlier this month, a bloody brawl broke out in downtown Berkeley at a pro-Trump protest that featured speeches by members of the white nationalist right. They clashed with a group of Trump critics who called themselves anti-fascists.

In February, violent protesters forced the cancellation of a speech by right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos, who like Coulter was invited by campus Republicans.

Trump Says He Thought Being President Would Be Easier Than His Old Life (WHITE IDIOT!)

He misses driving, feels as if he is in a cocoon, and is surprised how hard his new job is.

President Donald Trump on Thursday reflected on his first 100 days in office with a wistful look at his life before the White House.

 

“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going,” Trump told Reuters in an interview. “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

A wealthy businessman from New York, Trump assumed public office for the first time when he entered the White House on Jan. 20 after he defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an upset.

 

More than five months after his victory and two days shy of the 100-day mark of his presidency, the election is still on Trump’s mind. Midway through a discussion about Chinese President Xi Jinping, the president paused to hand out copies of what he said were the latest figures from the 2016 electoral map.

 

“Here, you can take that, that’s the final map of the numbers,” the Republican president said from his desk in the Oval Office, handing out maps of the United States with areas he won marked in red. “It’s pretty good, right? The red is obviously us.”

He had copies for each of the three Reuters reporters in the room.

 

Trump, who said he was accustomed to not having privacy in his “old life,” expressed surprise at how little he had now. And he made clear he was still getting used to having 24-hour Secret Service protection and its accompanying constraints.

“You’re really into your own little cocoon, because you have such massive protection that you really can’t go anywhere,” he said.

 

When the president leaves the White House, it is usually in a limousine or an SUV.

He said he missed being behind the wheel himself.

“I like to drive,” he said. “I can’t drive any more.”

 

Many things about Trump have not changed from the wheeler-dealer executive and former celebrity reality show host who ran his empire from the 26th floor of Trump Tower in New York and worked the phones incessantly.

 

He frequently turns to outside friends and former business colleagues for advice and positive reinforcement. Senior aides say they are resigned to it.

 

The president has been at loggerheads with many news organizations since his election campaign and decided not to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington on Saturday because he felt he had been treated unfairly by the media.

“I would come next year, absolutely,” Trump said when asked whether he would attend in the future.

 

The dinner is organized by the White House Correspondents’ Association. Reuters correspondent Jeff Mason is its president.

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