Developing –> From The Washington Post: “Iran has freed the sailors from two small American naval vessels that strayed into Iranian waters, prompting their seizure and detention by Iranian coastal forces.”
SOTU –> In Obama’s final State of the Union Address, the president pointed to what he said was America’s improved standing worldwide and improved economy back home, rebutting the apocalyptic rhetoric coming from the GOP frontrunners. “President Obama all but called Donald Trump out by name. Instead, he tried to outline the case for optimism about America’s future: We don’t need to Make America Great Again, because America Is Great Already,” writes Suzy Khimm at New Republic.
The president also acknowledged challenges facing America, economic inequality chief among them, and apologized for his inability to diffuse growing partisanship. But overall, writes David Corn at Mother Jones, “This was, in a way, a return to hope and change. Perhaps a more realistic (or world-weary) version of his 2008 pitch. He was aiming to spark the US spirit, not to draw clear lines. But at this stage in the game, it’s unclear what a good speech — and this was a good speech — can or will accomplish.”
Some fun facts about Fred –> In her new book, Dark Money, Jane Mayer of The New Yorker digs into the backstory of the Kochs and several other wealthy American families who shaped conservative politics in the second half of the twentieth century. The Koch patriarch, Fred C., was an industrialist who, Nicholas Confessore writes at The New York Times, “found some of his earliest business success overseas in the years leading up to World War II. One venture was a partnership with the American Nazi sympathizer William Rhodes Davis, who, according to Ms. Mayer, hired Mr. Koch to help build the third-largest oil refinery in the Third Reich, a critical industrial cog in Hitler’s war machine.”
In fact, Tom Hamburger at The Washington Post reports, Mayer also writes that Fred Koch “admired German discipline so much in the 1930s that he hired a fervent Nazi as a governess for his eldest boys. ‘Dark Money’ suggests that the experience of being toilet trained by a Nazi may have contributed to Charles Koch’s antipathy toward government today.”
Buckets of cash –> In the last six months, special-interest groups have spent $143 million on the presidential race, writes Ken Vogel at Politico: “The origins of some of that cash will never be revealed, while the rest of it won’t become known until midnight on Jan. 31 ― meaning that voters won’t know who funded the majority of the ads in the presidential race until just hours before Iowa voters head to their state’s pivotal caucuses.”
Time for an oil change –> Following a year in which the company was investigated first by journalists and then by the law for its role in hiding the facts and misleading the public on climate science, some of Exxon’s investors are pushing for more transparency and realism. They want details on how much the company spends “on lobbyists and organizations dedicated to obfuscating climate science and opposing emission regulations designed to slow climate change. They want Exxon to pledge to comply with measures to hold global warming under the 2-degree Celsius limit set by the Paris accord, and they want the company to add climate-conscious board members,” reports David Hasemyer at InsideClimate News.
The “restless billionaires” –> The New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin lays into Chris Hughes, the billionaire Facebook co-founder who bought the New Republic magazine, dramatically shook up its staff and approach to news coverage, and then, four years later, put it back up for sale, admitting that maybe he wasn’t the best choice to run a news publication: “Welcome to the age — and whimsy — of the new billionaire class and the precariousness of vanity projects. With so much money sloshing around, and more and more of the superwealthy pushing into areas beyond their expertise, it is likely we will see more headlines about the failure of some of these fanciful investments and philanthropic experiments.”
Step backward –> A new update to the Toxic Substances Act working its way through Congress “would make it much harder for states to regulate chemicals after the EPA has evaluated them, and would even prohibit states from acting while the federal agency is in the process of investigating certain chemicals,” writes Sharon Lerner at The Intercept. “If the worst provisions from both [House and Senate] bills wind up in the final law, which could reach the president’s desk as soon as February, the new legislation will gut laws that have put Oregon, California, Maine, Vermont, Minnesota, and Washington state at the forefront of chemical regulation.”
A modest proposal –> Progressive economist Dean Baker suggests a way the government could put an end to companies avoiding taxes through tricks like inversions. In the NY Times, he writes, “Suppose that, instead of taxing corporate profits, we required companies to turn over an amount of stock, in the form of nonvoting shares, to the government… The advantage of this approach is that there is no way for a corporation to escape its liability. A portion of whatever profit it makes will automatically go back to the government, no matter what it does.” Baker argues that this scheme would also save money for both corporations and the government.
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