Beyond the county: Afghan city falls to Taliban, Trump’s tax proposal |

Beyond the county: Afghan city falls to Taliban, Trump’s tax proposal

Key Afghan city falls to Taliban in major government setback

Credit —Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban captured the strategic northern Afghan city of Kunduz on Monday in a multi-pronged attack involving hundreds of fighters, the first time the insurgents have seized a major urban area since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

The fast-moving assault took military and intelligence agencies by surprise as the insurgents descended on the city, one of Afghanistan’s richest and the target of repeated Taliban offensives as the militants spread their fight across the country following the withdrawal last year of U.S. and NATO combat troops.

Within 12 hours of launching the offensive around 3 a.m., the militants had reached the main square, tearing down photographs of President Ashraf Ghani and other leaders and raising the white flag of the Taliban movement, residents reported.

More than 600 prisoners, including 140 Taliban fighters, were released from the city’s jail, and many people were trying to reach the airport to flee the city.

“Kunduz city has collapsed into the hands of the Taliban,” Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told the Associated Press. “Security forces in Kunduz were prepared for an attack, but not one of this size, and not one that was coordinated in 10 different locations at the same time.”

The Taliban used social media to claim the “conquest” of Kunduz and reassure residents that the extremist group — responsible for the vast majority of nearly 5,000 civilian casualties in the first half of this year, according to the United Nations — came in peace.

A statement attributed to the group’s new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, the self-styled Islamic emir of Afghanistan, said: “The citizens of Kunduz should not worry about safeguarding their lives and properties. Carry out your ordinary livelihoods in absolute security. All traders, workers, staff of hospitals, municipality and governing bodies should continue their daily routines without any fear or intimidation.”

The Taliban have a history of brutality toward those they regard as apostates, and have banned girls from school as well as music, movies and other trappings of modern life in areas under their control.

The fall of Kunduz marks a major setback for government forces, who have struggled to combat the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO shifted to a supporting role at the end of last year.

The city is a strategic prize for the Taliban and its capture, however short-lived, is sure to be used as a propaganda victory. This year’s fight has severely tested Afghan forces, who lack air power and must rely on the United States for selective airstrikes, and suffer huge casualties and low morale. Nevertheless, they have largely held their ground in the face of a Taliban strategy clearly aimed at forcing them to spread resources ever-thinly across the country.

Sediqqi said military reinforcements were being sent to Kunduz, where government forces managed to fend off a major Taliban assault in April, the start of the insurgents’ annual summer offensive. “We are trying our best to clear the city as soon as possible,” he said.

Kunduz has been regularly targeted by the Taliban, who have allied with other insurgents, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and militants driven into Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan by an assault on their hideouts near the porous border.

Gen. Murad Ali Murad, the deputy chief of army staff, said Monday’s attack involved a large number of Taliban drawn from across the north and included foreign fighters, likely Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan members with an eye on the Central Asian states to Afghanistan’s north.

“Strategic areas, including the airport, are controlled by Afghan security forces,” he said. “Reinforcements have already arrived and attacks on the insurgent positions will be launched soon,” he added, without elaborating.

Sediqqi said the target of the Taliban assault was the city’s main prison and police headquarters.

Earlier, deputy presidential spokesman, Zafar Hashemi, had called the situation “fluid,” saying Ghani was “in constant contact with the security and defense leadership to provide them with guidance.”

“Our first priority is the safety and security of residents,” he said.

Analyst Faheem Dashty said Afghan security and intelligence agencies had been “caught by surprise” in what appeared to be a “big failure” of security and intelligence.

“They were expecting a big attack but couldn’t defend the city,” he said.

Authorities were similarly blind-sided by the April attack and subsequent massing of fighters across the northern provinces, raising questions about the adequacy of the government’s security and defense agencies.

A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss an ongoing military operation, said the U.S. military was aware the Taliban had taken control of a hospital and a number of government buildings in the city, and that both sides — the Taliban and government forces — had sustained a significant number of casualties.

Early indications were that the Afghan forces were in position to push back the attackers and regain control of the city, although the outcome was still in doubt, said the official, speaking earlier Monday before the government announced the fall of the city.

The Kunduz assault highlights the resilience of the Taliban following the revelation earlier this year that their reclusive longtime leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, died two years ago. A bitter internal dispute over the appointment of Mansoor has yet to be fully resolved, but seems to have had little impact on the battlefield.

Republican front-runner Trump proposes tax cuts for all

Credit —Associated Press

NEW YORK — After weeks of vowing to raise taxes on “hedge fund guys” and high-income earners, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump unveiled a tax plan Monday that would cut rates across the board and reduce the amount paid by wealthiest Americans and corporations into the U.S. Treasury.

The plan, which Trump said would “provide major tax relief for middle-income and for most other Americans,” appears certain to come with a significant price tag that experts said would likely add to the national debt, despite Trump’s assurances.

“There will be a major tax reduction,” Trump said at a news conference at his Trump Tower skyscraper in Manhattan. “It’ll simplify the tax code. It’ll grow the American economy at a level that it hasn’t seen for decades, and all of this does not add to our debt or our deficit.”

The plan Trump unveiled proposes eliminating income taxes entirely for millions of single Americans earning less than $25,000 and married couples earning less than $50,000 a year. Individuals would receive a new one-page form to send the IRS saying, “I win.”

Wealthier Americans would also see large reductions in their annual tax bill. Under Trump’s four-bracket plan, the highest marginal tax rate would be cut from the current 39.6 percent to 25 percent.

Businesses — from major corporations to mom-and-pop shops — would also see their rates slashed to no more than 15 percent, down from the current corporate tax rate of 35 percent. Trump also said he would eliminate the estate tax.

The billionaire real estate mogul said he plans to pay for the tax cuts by eliminating and reducing unspecified deductions and loopholes, both on the “very rich” and corporations. He also wants to eliminate the so-called carried interest loophole that allows managers of hedge funds and private equity firms to pay a lower tax rate than most individuals.

“In other words, it’s going to cost me a fortune,” Trump said.

Tax experts rejected that analysis. Steve Gill, a tax and accounting professor at San Diego State University, said his quick calculation found that as a group, Americans making more than $200,000 a year would pay $400 billion to $500 billion less in taxes under Trump’s plan.

“This is not a serious plan,” said Michael Strain, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “He strongly indicated in television interviews the rich wouldn’t like this plan. The rich love this plan.”

Kyle Pomerleau, an economist at the Tax Foundation, which advocates for lower rates, said Trump’s tax cuts are far larger than those proposed by any other Republican candidate and could easily cost more than $7 trillion over the next decade. That’d be double the cost of the proposal from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

“It looks mostly like Bush’s plan, except it is a much, much larger tax cut,” Pomerleau said. “The Trump tax cut is bigger than what we’ve seen so far from Republican candidates.”

Trump said the changes he wants to make to the U.S. tax code would not add to the annual federal budget deficit and the overall national debt, in part because his plan would bring in new sources of revenue to the Treasury.

Among them: a one-time tax of 10 percent on money corporations are holding overseas that is brought back to the U.S, and the elimination of the ability of companies to defer taxes on income earned overseas. Estimates peg the amount of money U.S. firms have overseas at more than $2 trillion, although Trump said he believes the figure is far higher.

Trump also predicted his plan would “create tremendous numbers of jobs” and spark the economy to grow at least 3 percent a year, and as much as 5 or 6 percent. “We’re going to have growth that will be tremendous,” he said.

Most economists say such a high growth rate is unrealistic. But even under the most optimistic scenarios for growth, the size of Trump’s tax cuts will keep the government from raising as much revenue as does the current tax system, said Ryan Ellis of Americans for Tax Reform, a low-tax advocacy group that Trump consulted as he developed his proposal.

“It just doesn’t square up,” Ellis said, even as he praised the proposal for lowering tax rates.

Gill said no amount of eliminated deductions would be able to make up for the large amounts of money top earners would no longer pay in taxes under Trump’s newly lowered rates.

“You can’t make that up in any way other than shifting the burden to the middle class” or running deficits, Gill said.

In fact, he said, some isolated taxpayers could pay more. For example, if Trump eliminates the deduction for medical payments, certain households with high hospital bills could find themselves owing more money despite lower overall tax rates.

Trump said he would couple his tax plan with savings from cutting wasteful government spending, by renegotiating trade deals and demanding reimbursement from America’s allies for the cost of U.S. military protection. He vowed his administration “will be balancing budgets and getting them where they should be.”

The Congressional Budget Office projects this fiscal year’s federal deficit will be $426 billion, meaning Trump would need to find that much in potential spending cuts if his tax plan was revenue-neutral in order to balance the budget.

“We are reducing taxes, but at the same time if I win, if I become president, we will be able to cut so much money and have a better country,” he said.

Obama: States pledge 30,000-plus troops to UN peacekeeping

Credit —Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS — President Barack Obama on Monday announced notable steps to upgrade U.N peacekeeping, saying more than 50 countries have pledged to contribute more than 30,000 new troops and police to serve in some of the world’s most volatile areas.

But there was no sign the U.S., which pays a quarter of the peacekeeping budget, would put more of its own troops into the field.

The United States chaired a high-level meeting to strengthen and modernize peacekeeping, whose nearly 125,000 personnel increasingly face threats from extremist groups while being severely stretched in personnel and equipment. Deployments to crises can take several months.

And a series of sexual abuse allegations against peacekeepers has brought new concerns about a long-standing problem that Obama called “an affront to human decency.”

Obama’s presence at Monday’s meeting, shortly before his first face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of an annual U.N. gathering of world leaders, was the latest sign of high-level U.S. interest in the issue.

Putin did not attend the meeting — the only leader of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, which approves peacekeeping missions, not to be there.

For months, officials such as the U.S. military’s top officer and U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power have pressed countries, especially European ones, to contribute more. European countries contributed more than 40 percent of U.N. peacekeepers two decades ago but now provide less than 7 percent.

The U.N. has no standing army, meaning that it’s up to the U.N.’s 193 member states to supply people and equipment.

Monday’s pledges of new troops and police significantly exceed the 10,000 goal that U.S. officials had mentioned. In addition, the dozens of leaders from India, Britain and China and elsewhere said they would contribute the kinds of more sophisticated equipment the U.N.’s 16 peacekeeping missions say they need: Special forces, intelligence units, engineering skills, airlift capacity, field hospitals and even unarmed drones.

Obama said the U.S., which contributes less than 100 troops and police, will help with training and more sophisticated support.

Chinese President Xi Jinping made one of the largest commitments, saying his country would establish a permanent 8,000-strong rapid deployment force to respond to crises anywhere in the world and to provide $100 million to fund a similar force under the African Union.

In addition, Xi said China would furnish more helicopters and other equipment and provide funding, training and equipment for 10 mine-clearing operations.

Other announcements included Britain committing 250 to 300 troops to the U.N. mission in South Sudan, drones and a signal communications unit from Pakistan, an infantry battalion and a helicopter from Italy and engineering support or personnel from South Korea, Japan and Sri Lanka.

2 men arrested in death of UCLA student from fiery apartment

Credit —Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Police have arrested two 22-year-old men, one of them a fellow student, on suspicion of murder in the death of a University of California, Los Angeles, sorority member found dead in her burning apartment near campus, authorities said.

Forensic evidence and witness statements led to the weekend arrests of the two men in the killing of Andrea Delvesco, Los Angeles police said in a statement Monday.

Delvesco’s body was found Sept. 21 by firefighters who extinguished the fire at her apartment in the Westwood neighborhood, police said. Authorities have not revealed whether she died in the fire or was killed before it started.

Alberto Medina, of Fresno, and Eric Marquez, of Westwood, were each being held in the Van Nuys jail on a murder charge. Marquez, who according to UCLA is a fifth-year undergraduate student, was being held on $1 million bail. Medina, who is unaffiliated with the university, was being held without bail.

Officials did not know if either man had hired an attorney who could be reached for comment, and contact information for associates could not be found.

Delvesco, 21, a native of Austin, Texas, was a senior majoring in psychology. The Pi Beta Phi sorority said Delvesco, known as “Andy,” was one of its members.

“Andy had a contagious spirit and was a fearless giver,” Pi Beta Phi Chapter President Jacquie Medeiros said in a statement. “Andy was a friend to every person she met.”

In July, Delvesco pleaded not guilty to possession of several drugs including LSD and ecstasy. She was free on her own recognizance and had a court date scheduled for next week, City News Service reported.

An autopsy had been scheduled for last week to determine the cause of her death. Los Angeles County coroner’s officials did not immediately respond to questions about whether the autopsy took place or what it found.

Scramble to fill top jobs in House after Boehner exit

WASHINGTON — A chaotic scramble is on to fill the top GOP jobs in the House following Speaker John Boehner’s surprise resignation. Now the same conservatives who pushed him out are maneuvering to yank the next leadership team to the right.

The frenzied action under the Capitol Dome will help determine how Congress contends with upcoming battles on keeping the government running and avoiding a federal default — and whether Republicans can take back the White House next year.

Boehner’s announcement shocked nearly everyone, opening a rare chance for ambitious lawmakers to climb the congressional ladder and for competing factions to exert new sway as an anti-establishment fever sweeps GOP politics.

The front-runner for the speaker’s job, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, made his candidacy official Monday in a letter to fellow GOP lawmakers in which he pledged to fight for conservative principles and listen to all members — something Boehner was accused of failing to do.

“If elected speaker, I promise you that we will have the courage to lead the fight for our conservative principles and make our case to the American people,” McCarthy wrote. “But we will also have the wisdom to listen to our constituents and each other so that we always move forward together.”

McCarthy, a Californian in his fifth term, has been endorsed by Boehner. But he faces an opponent in Rep. Daniel Webster, a former speaker of the House in Florida who unsuccessfully challenged Boehner at the beginning of this year and has drawn some conservative support. “I would like to have a principle-based member-driven Congress,” Webster said in an interview.

And McCarthy’s likely ascent leaves the race for majority leader wide open. It’s already turned into at least a three-way contest with the No. 3 and No. 4 House Republicans, Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, aggressively pursuing the job, along with the Budget Committee chairman, Tom Price of Georgia.

All are jockeying to lock down support as the Capitol swirls in chatter about endorsements. One seen as significant: Former Vice Presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan announced his decision to endorse Price on Monday.

The House’s tea partyers, some three dozen strong, aren’t fielding a candidate. But they want to see leaders who will take the fight to President Barack Obama and the Democrats, not compromise with them as the realities of divided government led Boehner to do. Some of them question whether McCarthy, who’s seen more as a political operator than an ideologue, would deliver that new approach.

“I don’t see how members of the Freedom Caucus can vote for Kevin McCarthy and go home to their town halls and tell them that things will be different now,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky.

Boehner’s decision to step down rather than face a nearly unprecedented floor vote to depose him averted immediate crisis, as the Senate on Monday easily approved legislation to keep the government running, and the House was scheduled to follow suit before a Thursday deadline. Despite conservatives’ demands, the bill will not cut off money for Planned Parenthood in the wake of videos focused on the group’s practice of providing fetal tissues for research.

But the bill merely extends the government funding deadline until Dec. 11, when another shutdown showdown will loom as conservatives make new demands on Boehner’s successor and on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

A special House Republican meeting was scheduled for Tuesday evening to discuss the way forward. Conservatives on and off Capitol Hill served notice that they would not settle on the status quo from their leaders even as Democrats and some more moderate members warn the result could be more crisis and gridlock.

“At the end of the day the reason John Boehner is stepping down is there are a lot of members in his conference who couldn’t go home and defend him as speaker,” said Dan Holler of Heritage Action for America. “Those members are going to have to go home and defend the new leadership team, and they’ll have to be comfortable telling their constituents why the new leadership team is better than the old.”

Planned Parenthood president ‘proud’ of fetal tissue work

Credit —Associated Press

WASHINGTON — In Planned Parenthood’s first congressional appearance since the release of undercover videos, the group’s president is defending its provision of fetal tissue for researchers and castigating Republicans for not investigating the anti-abortion activists who furtively made the recordings.

In testimony prepared for a hearing Tuesday, Cecile Richards said the organization’s donation of tissue from aborted fetuses is a “minuscule” part of its work proving health services for women. She said the group has nearly 700 clinics but obtains fetal tissue in less than 1 percent of them.

“Planned Parenthood is proud of its limited role in supporting fetal tissue research,” she said, arguing that the donations have helped scientists search for cures.

Abortion opponent David Daleiden obtained the videos by posing as an executive of a fake company seeking to supply fetal tissue to researchers. Richards said Daleiden, despite three years of doing that, didn’t entrap any Planned Parenthood officials into doing anything illegal.

“It is clear they acted fraudulently and unethically — and perhaps illegally,” Richards said. “Yet it is Planned Parenthood, not Mr. Daleiden, that is currently subject to four congressional investigations” by the GOP-run Congress.

Congressional Democrats have demanded that Daleiden be called to testify, but Republicans have ignored those pleas.

The videos ignited a political uproar among conservatives and Republicans that has revived abortion as a potent issue for the 2016 presidential and congressional campaigns, with many GOP presidential candidates condemning the group.

Conservatives’ demands that Congress cut Planned Parenthood’s federal payments — for which Republicans lack the votes to succeed — indirectly contributed to the GOP unrest that prompted House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to announce his resignation last week. The organization receives about a third of its $1.3 billion annual budget, around $450 million, from federal coffers, chiefly reimbursements for treating Medicaid patients.

Richards’ testimony was provided by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where she was set to appear. Her prepared remarks contained little her organization has not already said since the abortion foes began releasing the videos in July.

Conservatives and some Republicans say Planned Parenthood has broken federal laws forbidding sales of fetal tissue for profit. The group has denied breaking any laws.

Prosecutor links figure in Chinatown probe to 2006 slaying

Credit —Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — The government has evidence that a man charged in a money laundering and corruption probe centered in San Francisco’s Chinatown also arranged a 2006 slaying, a federal prosecutor said Monday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Frenzen told a judge that Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow solicited someone to kill Allen Leung, the previous leader of the Chinese fraternal group known as the Ghee Kung Tong, the San Francisco Chronicle reported ( ). Frenzen also said there was evidence that Chow tried to recruit someone to kill a member of a San Francisco street gang.

Chow has not been charged with either of the slayings and has pleaded not guilty to racketeering and money laundering charges.

Chow, the elected “dragonhead” of the Ghee Kung Tong, was arrested after a years-long investigation that also ensnared state Sen. Leland Yee. The FBI alleges Ghee Kung Tong was a racketeering enterprise, and that undercover agents laundered $2.6 million in cash from illegal bookmaking through the organization.

Yee pleaded guilty to racketeering in July and is scheduled to be sentenced in December.

Frenzen said prosecutors should be able to introduce evidence of the homicides to show how Chow ran the Ghee Kung Tong, the Chronicle reported.

“This was how he asserted power,” Frenzen said.

Chow’s attorney, Curtis Briggs, disputed that prosecutors had any evidence linking his client to the slayings, calling the allegations a “farce.”

The judge did not immediately rule on whether the homicides could be admitted as evidence. Chow is scheduled to go on trial in November.

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