Biden’s dismal poll numbers imperil Dem Senate control

“Acutely aware of the need to get distance from the president, the four most endangered Democratic incumbents — Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan — are increasingly taking steps to highlight their independence from the president and underscore their differences.

Their public pushback against Biden’s plan to lift the Trump-era border restriction known as Title 42 is the most visible expression of the effort to get distance from the president. But the four Democrats are also finding other ways of signaling to voters. They’ve visited the border wall and blocked his nominees. A month before a Trump-appointed judge struck down Biden’s mask mandate on mass transit, three of the four voted in favor of a Republican bill to do just that.

On social media, where they shy away from praise of the president and instead focus on their efforts to prod the White House to action, it’s hard to tell they’ve voted in line with Biden no less than 96 percent of the time.

“In these four states, these are senators just doing the work, keeping their head down, getting things done for their states while the Republicans are obviously tearing each other apart in these primaries,” said Martha McKenna, a Democratic ad maker who previously worked for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

“They are not people who go looking for conflict, they’re not grandstanders. They’re hard working senators willing to say, ‘Yes, I agree with Biden on child tax credits or health care, but look, I’ve got an issue on this issue, or that issue.’””

Was Russia’s decision to cut off natural gas exports a mistake?

“Despite Western powers’ broad condemnation of and efforts to isolate Russia, the country has managed to maintain ties and partnerships elsewhere around the world. In April, the UN General Assembly voted on a resolution to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council over its invasion of Ukraine. The resolution succeeded after it received a two-thirds majority of votes from member states with 93 nations voting in favor of Russia’s suspension from the body. But 24 of the body’s members voted against the action while 58 members abstained from the vote altogether.

Results of the UN vote signify the complexities of real-world diplomacy even in the face of war. Countries in Africa, South America, and Asia have increasingly sought to resist taking sides as the Russia-Ukraine war threatens to shape the world into political factions. But the West’s waning influence in other parts of the globe, combined with economic and political interests at stake, has resulted in many nations opting to maintain their independence when it comes to relations with Russia.

In Asia, where growing vigilance over China’s increasing influence is shared across borders, nations in the southeast and the south of the continent have expressed their intentions to remain on good terms with Russia in spite of the situation with Ukraine. Among Russia’s most loyal partners is India, with whom it has maintained a strong relationship since the Soviet Union’s backing of India during the 1971 war with Pakistan, even as India remained officially non-aligned during the Cold War.

Another factor behind their continued friendship is India’s reliance on Russia as a military arms supplier — from the 1950s to now the country has received an estimated 65 percent of firearms exports from the Soviet Union or Russia, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. India’s border disputes in the Himalayas with China, which triggered a bloody clash in 2020, is another motivating factor for India as Russia has functioned as an important mediator in the conflict with China.

China, another key Russian partner, has refrained from condemning Russia outright, instead asking for the warring countries to reach a peaceful resolution. In a March virtual meeting with France and Germany, President Xi Jinping called for “maximum restraint” on the issue and expressed concerns over the broader impact of sanctions on Russia. But some, like Herrera, doubt how far China will continue to toe the line if the situation worsens.

“China has not said they would not abide by the sanctions and they are so far going along with the sanctions against Russia,” Herrera said. A potential turning point, she said, could be Europe’s next sanctions, particularly any secondary sanctions it puts out, which will be “a big crossroads for China to decide whether to participate with those.”

But its ties with Russia could still end up serving China economically. President Vladimir Putin has stated Russia will “redirect” its energy exports to “rapidly growing markets” elsewhere to help buttress against sanctions, perhaps an effort to maintain support from its key ally.”

The IRS has a big opportunity to fix the way Americans file taxes

“Right now, if you’re an American who wants to file your taxes without paying any additional fees to a private company or preparer, you have three options (besides limited “simple return” promotions by the big companies).

You can role-play as someone living in the 1970s and print out the 1040 tax form, along with any associated schedules or forms for tax credits and deductions for which you may be eligible, and compute it all by hand, meticulously collating physical copies of your W-2 and 1099 income statements and any other documentation you need.

Your second option is only slightly less tedious: You can use Free File Fillable Forms, a free service implemented by Intuit that simply copies the physical IRS tax forms and makes them “fillable” so you can type in the numbers. It’ll even do some basic math for you. But you still have to manually enter everything, you can’t import PDFs of your W-2 or other statements, and it’s easy to get confused about exactly which forms you’re expected or required to fill out. I’m an IRS-certified tax preparer, and I gave up using the website this year out of frustration.

Your final option is only available if you make $72,000 a year or less. In that case, you’re eligible for a free return on private tax software through the IRS Free File program. But careful: You might get a ton of spam from whatever company you choose trying to upsell you and get you to pay for fancier options. One investigation found that 14 million Americans were charged by companies for Free File returns that should have cost nothing.

The IRS also funds community tax organizations that can file returns for low-income people, but I can say from experience as a volunteer tax preparer that these groups are underfunded and overworked.

This is an unacceptable state of affairs. Americans should not have to choose between these obviously inadequate and half-baked free options for tax filing and paying a private company. Paying taxes is a legal requirement, and it should be possible to easily do it for free. And it just isn’t possible right now; it’s no wonder that over 91 percent of individual returns filed in 2019 were filed through a paid preparer or a private online service. The current system almost forces you to pay for the privilege of paying your taxes.”

“For years, the government leaned on those two companies to provide free tax services to Americans in need. But the basic problem with relying on private sector companies that provide paid tax services to provide free ones is that they will always have an incentive to make the free service worse and to make the paid one more attractive. That’s been the story the past couple of decades.”

” The IRS desperately needs to put together an easier-to-use, simpler way for people to file their taxes and access benefits free of charge. Accomplishing that, of course, is easier said than done. The IRS has been underfunded for decades and does not have sufficient in-house technical expertise to build a free file system on its own.”

What’s really holding the world back from stopping climate change

“The world is on track to shoot far past climate change targets unless countries make drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. Fortunately, many of the tools to make these cuts are already here and are continuing to get cheaper. Yet the pledges to lower emissions that countries have made so far are nowhere near enough, and the world is drifting even further off course.”

“the difference between 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times and 2 degrees Celsius — could make global warming far more destructive. Governments have promised to keep us under these levels, but the world is far away from these targets, and moving farther away every year.”

“most of the world would need to start to abandon existing fossil fuel infrastructure in the next decade, and also nix any new and existing coal-fired power plants and plans to expand offshore oil drilling. And action must cut across sectors, addressing gas-guzzling transportation, heat-intensive manufacturing operations, and deforestation.”

Europe’s other threat to democracy

“Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán won reelection for the fourth time — emerging with control of over two-thirds of the country’s parliamentary seats in defiance of close pre-election polls. This fourth consecutive victory means he will remain the third-longest-serving current leader in Europe at nearly 16 years in power, behind only Belarus’s Aleksandr Lukashenko (28 years as president) and Russia’s Vladimir Putin (23 years as president or prime minister).

That Orbán’s peers in longevity are outright dictators is appropriate, as Sunday’s election was anything but free and fair. For the past 12 years, Orbán has systematically worked to turn Hungarian democracy into a sham: one where elections seem fair, but take place on uneven playing ground. Through tactics ranging from extreme gerrymandering to media control to unfair campaign finance rules, he has made it unthinkably difficult for the opposition to defeat his Fidesz party at the ballot box.”

Elizabeth Warren’s plan to break up Big Everything

“mergers don’t just affect consumers: “The world has changed for those workers,” Warren said.”

“Studies have shown that as markets become more concentrated, wages stagnate.”

“Under Warren’s new bill, mergers over a certain size or that consolidate the market too much are forbidden. And consummated mergers that have harmed competition, workers, consumers, or competitors can be broken up.”

How much legal jeopardy is Hunter Biden in?

“The main legal questions appear to be whether Hunter violated tax laws, committed money laundering, or acted as an unregistered foreign lobbyist.”

“There is nothing inherently illegal about accepting money and gifts from foreign interests if you are a private citizen and your dad is a famous, powerful person. But you do have to pay taxes on it. And according to the New York Times, a federal inquiry into whether Hunter had properly paid his taxes began back during the Obama administration. Then, in 2018, the tax inquiry became a broader criminal investigation into Hunter, conducted by the US attorney’s office in Delaware, examining possible money laundering and whether he was an unregistered foreign agent.”

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“Hunter is also under scrutiny for potential money laundering — basically, bringing foreign funds into the US financial system in connection with some sort of crime. Various financial institutions filed “suspicious activity reports” to the US government about movements of funds in and out of Hunter’s accounts, including to his uncle James Biden.

Though the term “money laundering” may bring to mind drug trafficking or something of the sort, prosecutors can also charge it in connection with more prosaic crimes, such as acting as an unregistered foreign agent. (Manafort was charged with conspiring to launder money for this purpose.)”

“The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires people doing political, public relations, or lobbying work for foreign clients to register with the government as foreign agents. Ordinary business work for foreign clients does not require FARA registration. But when that work moves from the business realm to the political realm — or, importantly, to the public relations realm — that obligation may kick in.

So the question is what kind of work Hunter really did.”