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November 6, 2017
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As House Republicans finalize their tax reform plan this week, their colleagues in some blue states remain wary of the bill's elimination of certain deductions. Republicans have proposed offsetting the $2 trillion in cuts outlined in their bill by tweaking certain deductions, which would raise $1 trillion in revenue over 10 years, The New York Times reports.

Policies under the knife include the federal deduction for property taxes in New Jersey, the deduction for state and local income taxes, and the mortgage interest deduction. The GOP plan proposes capping the federal deduction for property taxes in the Garden State at $10,000 as well as restricting the mortgage interest deduction only loans up to $500,000, The New York Times explains.

In the case of the state and local tax rule, one-third of New Jersey taxpayers claim that deduction. California and New York alone account for nearly one-third of the value claimed under that deduction nationwide. "I view it as a geographic redistribution of wealth," said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.). "You're taking more money from a state like New York, to pay for a deeper tax cut elsewhere.

The House plans to pass its bill by the end of the week. The Senate is working on its own version of a tax overhaul and is expected to release the bill in the coming days. Read more about the GOP's blue-state conundrum at The New York Times. Kimberly Alters

November 1, 2017
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Theater owners are already complaining about Disney's strict rules for exhibiting Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which comes out on Dec. 15, 2017. "Disney will receive about 65 percent of ticket-sales revenue from the film, a new benchmark for a Hollywood studio," The Wall Street Journal writes. "Disney is also requiring theaters to show the movie in their largest auditorium for at least four weeks."

Typically studios take about 55 percent of ticket-sales from movie theaters, although bigger blockbusters sometimes send back around 60 percent. Previous Star Wars films required theaters send back 64 percent of sales. Now if theaters violate Disney's conditions, they could get dinged with an additional 5 percent of ticket sales being returned, bringing the total up to 70 percent.

That presents a conundrum for small-market movie theaters. "There's a finite number of moviegoers in my market, and I can service all of them in a couple of weeks," explained the owner of a single-screen theater in Elkader, Iowa. In order to show The Last Jedi and avoid a fine, small-town theaters would need to keep the movie playing in near-empty theaters toward the end of its four-week run — while still giving Disney a steep cut of the sales. Read the full report at The Wall Street Journal. Jeva Lange

October 19, 2017
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By the end of Donald Trump's presidential campaign last year, "drain the swamp" had become a regular chant at his rallies. A year on, though, President Trump has done little to follow through with his promises, Politico reports. "I don't think that anything's really changed," said Republican lobbyist Brian Wild. "If anything, the lobbying business is booming right now."

Before taking office, Trump proposed five major changes to lobbying rules, only one of which has been fully delivered nine months after his inauguration — "signing an executive order … that banned executive branch officials from lobbying for foreign governments and overseas political parties after they leave the administration." Other promises, including "to broaden the definition of lobbying, to ban lobbyists for foreign interests from making campaign contributions, and to lengthen the amount of time former lawmakers are banned from lobbying," have not been followed through, Politico writes.

Others say they have noticed pressure on lobbyists since Trump took office. The administration has "encouraged not only our office but other offices to proceed with 'drain the swamp' legislation," said George Cecala, the deputy chief of staff to Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.).

But even with things perhaps moving behind the scenes, it's still a good time to be a lobbyist in Washington: Spending on lobbying in 2017 was the highest since 2012, the Center for Responsive Politics found, totaling nearly $1.7 billion just in the first half of the year. Read more about why draining the swamp is an impossible task at The Week, and more about Trump's unfulfilled promises at Politico. Jeva Lange

October 11, 2017

The buzziest part of President Trump's new interview with Forbes staff writer Randall Lane is his suggestion that he and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson take an IQ duel to see who's the real "moron." But the article is really about Trump being a dealmaker not a businessman, why that's a different thing, and his fixation on numbers. "Numbers offer Trump validation," Lane writes. "They determine the winner or loser of any deal and establish an industry hierarchy. It's why Trump, more than any of the 1,600 or so people who've been on the Forbes 400, has spent more time lobbying and cajoling Forbes to get a higher valuation — and validation."

Brian Williams asked Lane about that on MSNBC Tuesday night. "We wrestle with him annually," Lane said. "Donald Trump cares more about where he ranks on the Forbes 400 than anyone in our 35-year history." In fact, Lane said, "we used to have at Forbes what we called the 'Donald Trump rule,' which whatever Donald Trump tells you, you divide by three and that probably is what he's really worth."

Williams brought up Trump's IQ challenge, and Lane pulled back for a bigger picture. "Numbers are very important to Donald Trump," he said. "It explains a lot, it explains his obsession about crowd size, it explains why every time there's a bad poll, he attacks the messenger. Donald Trump is somebody — he's a businessman who's always been about the gut. And while we're in an age of Big Data, where most businesses are looking at the data and then making decisions based on the data, Donald Trump is somebody who goes by instinct and gut and then looks for numbers to justify his gut."

That's been a mixed bag for Trump in business. We'll see how it works in politics. Peter Weber

October 5, 2017
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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has already invited scrutiny of his travels after chartering an oil executive's private plane, costing taxpayers more than $12,000. Now the former Congressman's trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands is getting a second look, "raising questions about his habit of mixing official government business with political activism," Politico writes.

Interior records show that Zinke has met with political donors or groups more than half a dozen times while on taxpayer-funded department trips, Politico reports. It is illegal to use government resources for partisan ventures. While none of Zinke's trips seem to blatantly break the law, House Democrats have alleged the secretary's travels "give the appearance that you are mixing political gatherings and personal destinations with official business." In one instance from the spring, Zinke visited the U.S. Virgin Islands ostensibly to understand the Interior's role in the territory, but also attended a local Republican Party fundraiser.

Zinke has spent about $20,000 on three charter flights since taking the job, Politico reports. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned last week after being embroiled in controversy over his use of private planes while in office, costing taxpayers more than $1 million; Energy Secretary Rick Perry flew charter to Ohio the day before Price's resignation; EPA chief Scott Pruitt has spent more than $58,000 on private and military flights; and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has faced criticism for requesting use of a government jet to whisk him and his third wife away to Europe this summer for their honeymoon and for possibly using a trip to Kentucky to view the solar eclipse. Jeva Lange

August 21, 2017

Advertisers have rapidly and steadily fled Breitbart News this year as the site's reputation is increasingly tied to the alt-right. So far, more than 2,500 companies have jumped ship, reports Sleeping Giants, an organization that describes its mission as stopping "racist and sexist media by stopping its ad dollars."

Sleeping Giants has spent months encouraging its supporters to take screenshots of ads next to objectionable content on Breitbart and politely tweet a complaint with the image to the company involved. While the organization did not specify how many businesses are still advertising at Breitbart, The Independent reports Amazon is currently among them — albeit indirectly, via the ad services it uses. The company may soon depart, however, as employees have petitioned chief executive Jeff Bezos to cut all such ties.

Ousted White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon is returning to this diminished Breitbart after his departure from the Trump administration. His post-firing remarks do not make clear what his approach to President Trump, his former boss, will be in this new role. Bonnie Kristian

August 7, 2017
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On Monday, Netflix made its first-ever acquisition, snapping up comic book publisher Millarworld. While terms of the deal were not disclosed, Netflix apparently plans to use Millarworld's 18 separate character worlds, to create films, TV shows, and children's series.

Millarworld's comic narratives have already been used in three successful movie franchises — Wanted, Kick-Ass, and Kingsman — that together have grossed close to $1 billion in box office revenue worldwide. The second Kingsman movie, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, will be released in the U.S. on Sept. 22.

Before creating Millarworld with his wife Lucy, Mark Millar spent eight years at Marvel, reworking the Avengers universe and laying the comic groundwork for Marvel's recent blockbuster, Logan. Netflix's chief content officer Ted Sarandos described Millar as a "modern day Stan Lee" in a statement Monday, referring to the former Marvel titan.

Millarworld is the third major comic book publisher to be bought by a larger media company: Warner Bros acquired DC Comics in 1968 and Disney purchased Marvel in 2009. By acquiring Millarworld, Netflix has taken a major step forward in the development of its own intellectual property, which will help the company compete with the likes of Amazon and Hulu. Elianna Spitzer

August 3, 2017
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Former FBI Director James Comey has found a home for his memoir about his career in government to the tune of $2 million, The Guardian reports. The book, which reportedly earned the interest of all the major publishing houses, was ultimately acquired by Macmillan's Flatiron imprint and will be released next spring.

Comey's memoir will include "examples from some of the highest-stakes situations in the past two decades of U.S. government" and "share yet unheard anecdotes from his long and distinguished career." An earlier New York Times report about the book said it would also touch on Comey's short time in the Trump administration, which he was dumped from this spring, allegedly over his Russia investigation.

"Throughout his career, James Comey has had to face one difficult decision after another as he has served the leaders of our country," Flatiron wrote. "His book promises to take us inside those extraordinary moments in our history, showing us how these leaders have behaved under pressure. By doing so, Director Comey will give us unprecedented entry into the corridors of power, and a remarkable lesson in leadership itself."

Your move, Carter Page. Jeva Lange

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