US Lawmaker Vows to Work Toward New Trump Tax Cut

The top Republican lawmaker on tax policy in the U.S. House of Representatives said Tuesday that he was working with the White House and Treasury to develop a new 10 percent middle-class tax cut plan that

President Donald Trump began touting over the weekend.

Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, who chairs the tax-writing House

Ways and Means Committee, said the plan would be crafted in “coming weeks” and would advance in Congress if Republicans retained control of the House and Senate in midterm elections on Nov. 6.

“President Trump believes American families deserve to keep more of what they work so hard to earn. We agree,” Brady said in a statement.

In what is widely seen by lobbyists as the latest Republican campaign message on taxes, Trump told reporters on Tuesday at the White House that the plan would emerge soon.

“This will be on top of the tax reduction that the middle class has already gotten. And we’re putting in a resolution, probably this week,” the president said.

Surprised

Trump’s comments came a day after congressional and administrative staff appeared to be caught off guard by word of a new tax cut, which surfaced on Saturday.

The White House on Tuesday described the new tax cut as an agenda item for 2019 and suggested it could be offset by cuts in spending.

Republicans are in a pitched battle to retain control of the House and Senate against an energized Democratic voting base that has made contests competitive even in some Republican strongholds.

“What President Trump is doing on the [campaign] trail is he’s just describing what he wants to be in the tax bill that moves next year,” Trump economic adviser Kevin Hassett told MSNBC on Tuesday. “You could expect in our budget, and also in our approach to legislation next year, that we’re going to be pursuing a big reduction in government spending.”

Trump signed steep tax cuts for businesses and individuals into law last December as part of a sprawling Republican tax overhaul. Stung by criticism that their tax plan shortchanged families by having individual tax cuts expire after 2025, House Republicans voted last month to make the individual cuts

permanent in a legislative package dubbed “Tax Reform 2.0.”

“Because of the fact that the economy is doing so well, we feel like we can give up some more. I couldn’t have gotten that extra 10 percent when we originally passed the [tax] plan. We maxed out,” Trump said.

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US Lawmaker Vows to Work Toward New Trump Tax Cut

The top Republican lawmaker on tax policy in the U.S. House of Representatives said Tuesday that he was working with the White House and Treasury to develop a new 10 percent middle-class tax cut plan that

President Donald Trump began touting over the weekend.

Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, who chairs the tax-writing House

Ways and Means Committee, said the plan would be crafted in “coming weeks” and would advance in Congress if Republicans retained control of the House and Senate in midterm elections on Nov. 6.

“President Trump believes American families deserve to keep more of what they work so hard to earn. We agree,” Brady said in a statement.

In what is widely seen by lobbyists as the latest Republican campaign message on taxes, Trump told reporters on Tuesday at the White House that the plan would emerge soon.

“This will be on top of the tax reduction that the middle class has already gotten. And we’re putting in a resolution, probably this week,” the president said.

Surprised

Trump’s comments came a day after congressional and administrative staff appeared to be caught off guard by word of a new tax cut, which surfaced on Saturday.

The White House on Tuesday described the new tax cut as an agenda item for 2019 and suggested it could be offset by cuts in spending.

Republicans are in a pitched battle to retain control of the House and Senate against an energized Democratic voting base that has made contests competitive even in some Republican strongholds.

“What President Trump is doing on the [campaign] trail is he’s just describing what he wants to be in the tax bill that moves next year,” Trump economic adviser Kevin Hassett told MSNBC on Tuesday. “You could expect in our budget, and also in our approach to legislation next year, that we’re going to be pursuing a big reduction in government spending.”

Trump signed steep tax cuts for businesses and individuals into law last December as part of a sprawling Republican tax overhaul. Stung by criticism that their tax plan shortchanged families by having individual tax cuts expire after 2025, House Republicans voted last month to make the individual cuts

permanent in a legislative package dubbed “Tax Reform 2.0.”

“Because of the fact that the economy is doing so well, we feel like we can give up some more. I couldn’t have gotten that extra 10 percent when we originally passed the [tax] plan. We maxed out,” Trump said.

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US Tech Companies Reconsider Saudi Investment

The controversy over the death of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi has shined a harsh light on the growing financial ties between Silicon Valley and the world’s largest oil exporter.

As Saudi Arabia’s annual investment forum in Riyadh — dubbed “Davos in the Desert” — continues, representatives from many of the kingdom’s highest-profile overseas tech investments are not attending, joining other international business leaders in shunning a conference amid lingering questions over what role the Saudi government played in the killing of a journalist inside their consulate in Turkey.

Tech leaders such as Steve Case, the co-founder of AOL, and Dara Khosrowshahi, the chief executive of Uber, declined to attend this week’s annual investment forum in Riyadh. Even the CEO of Softbank, which has received billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia to back technology companies, reportedly has canceled his planned speech at the event.

But the Saudi controversy is focusing more scrutiny on the ethics of taking money from an investor who is accused of wrongdoing or whose track record is questionable.

Fueling the tech race

In the tech startup world, Saudi investment has played a key role in allowing firms to delay going public for years while they pursue a high-growth strategy without worrying about profitability. Those ties have only grown with the ascendancy of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of the Saudi king.

The kingdom’s Public Investment Fund has put $3.5 billion into Uber and has a seat on Uber’s 12-member board. Saudi Arabia also has invested more than $1 billion into Lucid Motors, a California electric car startup, and $400 million in Magic Leap, an augmented reality startup based in Florida.

Almost half of the Japanese Softbank’s $93 billion Vision Fund came from the Saudi government. The Vision Fund has invested in a Who’s Who list of tech startups, including WeWork, Wag, DoorDash and Slack. 

Now there are reports that as the cloud hangs over the crown prince, Softbank’s plan for a second Vision fund may be on hold. And Saudi money might have trouble finding a home in the future in Silicon Valley, where companies are competing for talented workers, as well as customers.

The tech industry is not alone in questioning its relationship with the Saudi government in the wake of Khashoggi’s death or appearing to rethink its Saudi investments. Museums, universities and other business sectors that have benefited financially from their connections to the Saudis also are taking a harder look at those relationships.

Who are my investors?

Saudi money plays a large role in Silicon Valley, touching everything from ride-hailing firms to business-messaging startups, but it is not the only foreign investment in the region.

More than 20 Silicon Valley venture companies have ties to Chinese government funding, according to Reuters, with the cash fueling tech startups. The Beijing-backed funds have raised concerns that strategically important technology, such as artificial intelligence, is being transferred to China.

And Kremlin money has backed a prominent Russian venture capitalist in the Valley who has invested in Twitter and Facebook.

The Saudi controversy has prompted some in the Valley to question their investors about where those investors are getting their funding. Fred Wilson, a prominent tech venture capitalist, received just such an inquiry.

“I expect to get more emails like this in the coming weeks as the start-up and venture community comes to grip with the flood of money from bad actors that has found its way into the start-up/tech sector over the last decade,” he wrote in a blog post titled “Who Are My Investors?”

“Bad actors’ doesn’t simply mean money from rulers in the gulf who turn out to be cold blooded killers,” Wilson wrote. “It also means money from regions where dictators rule viciously and restrict freedom.” 

This may be a defining ethical moment in Silicon Valley, as it moves away from its libertarian roots to seeing the world in its complexity, said Ann Skeet, senior director of leadership ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

“Corporate leaders are moving more quickly and decisively than the administration, and they realize they have a couple of hats here — one, they are the chief strategist of their organization, and they also play the role of the responsible person who creates space for the right conversations to happen,” she said.

Tech’s evolving ethics

Responding to demands from their employees and customers, Silicon Valley firms are looking more seriously at business ethics and taking moral stands.

In the case of Google, it meant discontinuing a U.S. Defense Department contract involving artificial intelligence. In the case of WeWork, the firm now forbids the consumption of meat at the office or purchased with company expenses, on environmental grounds.

The Vision Fund will “undoubtedly find itself in a more challenging environment in convincing startups to take its money,” Amir Anvarzadeh, a senior strategist at Asymmetric Advisors in Singapore, recently told Bloomberg. 

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US Tech Companies Reconsider Saudi Investment

The controversy over the death of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi has shined a harsh light on the growing financial ties between Silicon Valley and the world’s largest oil exporter.

As Saudi Arabia’s annual investment forum in Riyadh — dubbed “Davos in the Desert” — continues, representatives from many of the kingdom’s highest-profile overseas tech investments are not attending, joining other international business leaders in shunning a conference amid lingering questions over what role the Saudi government played in the killing of a journalist inside their consulate in Turkey.

Tech leaders such as Steve Case, the co-founder of AOL, and Dara Khosrowshahi, the chief executive of Uber, declined to attend this week’s annual investment forum in Riyadh. Even the CEO of Softbank, which has received billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia to back technology companies, reportedly has canceled his planned speech at the event.

But the Saudi controversy is focusing more scrutiny on the ethics of taking money from an investor who is accused of wrongdoing or whose track record is questionable.

Fueling the tech race

In the tech startup world, Saudi investment has played a key role in allowing firms to delay going public for years while they pursue a high-growth strategy without worrying about profitability. Those ties have only grown with the ascendancy of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of the Saudi king.

The kingdom’s Public Investment Fund has put $3.5 billion into Uber and has a seat on Uber’s 12-member board. Saudi Arabia also has invested more than $1 billion into Lucid Motors, a California electric car startup, and $400 million in Magic Leap, an augmented reality startup based in Florida.

Almost half of the Japanese Softbank’s $93 billion Vision Fund came from the Saudi government. The Vision Fund has invested in a Who’s Who list of tech startups, including WeWork, Wag, DoorDash and Slack. 

Now there are reports that as the cloud hangs over the crown prince, Softbank’s plan for a second Vision fund may be on hold. And Saudi money might have trouble finding a home in the future in Silicon Valley, where companies are competing for talented workers, as well as customers.

The tech industry is not alone in questioning its relationship with the Saudi government in the wake of Khashoggi’s death or appearing to rethink its Saudi investments. Museums, universities and other business sectors that have benefited financially from their connections to the Saudis also are taking a harder look at those relationships.

Who are my investors?

Saudi money plays a large role in Silicon Valley, touching everything from ride-hailing firms to business-messaging startups, but it is not the only foreign investment in the region.

More than 20 Silicon Valley venture companies have ties to Chinese government funding, according to Reuters, with the cash fueling tech startups. The Beijing-backed funds have raised concerns that strategically important technology, such as artificial intelligence, is being transferred to China.

And Kremlin money has backed a prominent Russian venture capitalist in the Valley who has invested in Twitter and Facebook.

The Saudi controversy has prompted some in the Valley to question their investors about where those investors are getting their funding. Fred Wilson, a prominent tech venture capitalist, received just such an inquiry.

“I expect to get more emails like this in the coming weeks as the start-up and venture community comes to grip with the flood of money from bad actors that has found its way into the start-up/tech sector over the last decade,” he wrote in a blog post titled “Who Are My Investors?”

“Bad actors’ doesn’t simply mean money from rulers in the gulf who turn out to be cold blooded killers,” Wilson wrote. “It also means money from regions where dictators rule viciously and restrict freedom.” 

This may be a defining ethical moment in Silicon Valley, as it moves away from its libertarian roots to seeing the world in its complexity, said Ann Skeet, senior director of leadership ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

“Corporate leaders are moving more quickly and decisively than the administration, and they realize they have a couple of hats here — one, they are the chief strategist of their organization, and they also play the role of the responsible person who creates space for the right conversations to happen,” she said.

Tech’s evolving ethics

Responding to demands from their employees and customers, Silicon Valley firms are looking more seriously at business ethics and taking moral stands.

In the case of Google, it meant discontinuing a U.S. Defense Department contract involving artificial intelligence. In the case of WeWork, the firm now forbids the consumption of meat at the office or purchased with company expenses, on environmental grounds.

The Vision Fund will “undoubtedly find itself in a more challenging environment in convincing startups to take its money,” Amir Anvarzadeh, a senior strategist at Asymmetric Advisors in Singapore, recently told Bloomberg. 

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Low-tech Tools Can Fight Land Corruption, Experts Say

Technological solutions to prevent land corruption require resources, but they do not have to be expensive, land rights experts said Tuesday.

Satellite imagery, cloud computing and blockchain are among technologies with the potential to help many of the world’s more than 1 billion people estimated to lack secure property rights. But they can be expensive and require experts to be trained.

That’s where low-tech solutions such as Cadastre Registry Inventory Without Paper (CRISP) can be useful, said Ketakandriana Rafitoson, executive director of global anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) in

Madagascar.

CRISP helps local activists in Madagascar, one of the world’s poorest countries, document land ownership using tablets with fingerprint readers and built-in cameras, which cost $20 a day to rent.

Users can take pictures of ID cards, location agreements, photos of landowners, their neighbors and any witnesses who were present during land demarcation, Rafitoson told the International Anti-Corruption Conference.

Lack of trust

One challenge in Madagascar is a lack of trust in politicians, Rafitoson said, meaning it is better if local charities are involved, too.

“If we just leave the land authorities with the community, it doesn’t work because they don’t trust each other,” she said.

Corruption in land management ranges from local officials demanding bribes for basic administrative duties to high-level political decisions being unduly influenced, according to TI.

The Dashboard, a tool developed by the International Land Coalition (ILC), is also putting local people at the center of monitoring land deals, said Eva Hershaw, a data specialist at the ILC, a global alliance of nonprofit organizations working on improving land governance.

The Dashboard is being tested in Colombia, Nepal and Senegal, where it allows ILC’s local partners to collect data based on 30 core indicators, including monitoring legal frameworks and how laws are implemented.

Next week, TI Zambia will launch a new phone-based platform, which can advise Zambians on various aspects of land acquisition and guide them through processes around it.

Rueben Lifuka, president of TI Zambia, said users can also report corruption through the platform, including requests for bribes. 

Those affected by corruption can decide whether a copy will be sent to the local authorities, and TI can then track the response.

An improvement in internet coverage in Zambia means it is becoming easier to develop technologies such as the platform, which cost about $34,000 to develop, Lifuka said.

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Low-tech Tools Can Fight Land Corruption, Experts Say

Technological solutions to prevent land corruption require resources, but they do not have to be expensive, land rights experts said Tuesday.

Satellite imagery, cloud computing and blockchain are among technologies with the potential to help many of the world’s more than 1 billion people estimated to lack secure property rights. But they can be expensive and require experts to be trained.

That’s where low-tech solutions such as Cadastre Registry Inventory Without Paper (CRISP) can be useful, said Ketakandriana Rafitoson, executive director of global anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) in

Madagascar.

CRISP helps local activists in Madagascar, one of the world’s poorest countries, document land ownership using tablets with fingerprint readers and built-in cameras, which cost $20 a day to rent.

Users can take pictures of ID cards, location agreements, photos of landowners, their neighbors and any witnesses who were present during land demarcation, Rafitoson told the International Anti-Corruption Conference.

Lack of trust

One challenge in Madagascar is a lack of trust in politicians, Rafitoson said, meaning it is better if local charities are involved, too.

“If we just leave the land authorities with the community, it doesn’t work because they don’t trust each other,” she said.

Corruption in land management ranges from local officials demanding bribes for basic administrative duties to high-level political decisions being unduly influenced, according to TI.

The Dashboard, a tool developed by the International Land Coalition (ILC), is also putting local people at the center of monitoring land deals, said Eva Hershaw, a data specialist at the ILC, a global alliance of nonprofit organizations working on improving land governance.

The Dashboard is being tested in Colombia, Nepal and Senegal, where it allows ILC’s local partners to collect data based on 30 core indicators, including monitoring legal frameworks and how laws are implemented.

Next week, TI Zambia will launch a new phone-based platform, which can advise Zambians on various aspects of land acquisition and guide them through processes around it.

Rueben Lifuka, president of TI Zambia, said users can also report corruption through the platform, including requests for bribes. 

Those affected by corruption can decide whether a copy will be sent to the local authorities, and TI can then track the response.

An improvement in internet coverage in Zambia means it is becoming easier to develop technologies such as the platform, which cost about $34,000 to develop, Lifuka said.

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Syria’s Food Production Hits 29-Year Low

A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program finds extreme weather conditions in Syria have caused the lowest production of wheat and barley for nearly three decades in this war-torn country.

Still, the Syrian government has managed to pacify most of country after more than seven years of brutal, murderous conflict that has reportedly killed more than 350,000 people. Because of improved security, more people are returning to their places of origin.

But the report says despite improved access to agricultural land in some areas, erratic weather has caused a sharp decline in crop production this year, compared to last. It says large areas of rainfed cereals have failed because of a long dry period early in the season. This was followed by unseasonably late heavy rains and high temperatures, which seriously diminished irrigated cereal yields.

Spokesman for the World Food Program, Herve Verhoosel, told VOA this extremely bad harvest will impact badly upon a population that already is short of food.

“We are talking about a third of the production compared to three years ago, then probably everybody will be affected either by the higher price of cereals on the market or by lack of cereal. Then that will probably affect everybody because they will not have the cereal, or they will need to pay more to have them,” Verhoosel said.

The report finds market access and trade has improved considerably throughout the country. It says humanitarian access to people in hard to reach places is much better.  And, with the military gains made by Syrian forces, there no longer are any besieged areas.

Though access to food has generally improved, the report finds about one-quarter of households still suffer from chronic hunger. Data show about 44 percent of households have reduced the number of meals they eat each day and when food is scarce, 35 percent of adults will first feed their children.

 

 

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