Nation & World briefs: 10-31-17

House GOP leaders delay tax plan release amid changes

WASHINGTON — House Republicans, straining to make last-minute changes to their far-reaching tax proposal, on Tuesday delayed the rollout by a day after they failed to finalize the details.

ADVERTISING

The plan pushed by President Donald Trump and Republican leaders in Congress is a top legislative priority. The details originally were to be unveiled today, but that was delayed until Thursday, said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

The committee had worked throughout the day and evening to produce a plan for the first overhaul of the nation’s tax code in three decades.

“We are making excellent progress. We are very close,” Brady told reporters late Tuesday night. “A lot of work remains with the drafters, they are continuing to work through the night. We are moving forward.”

He said his panel plans to vote on the bill next week.

Although they had settled on some key details — such as a cut in the corporate tax rate to 20 percent and maintaining the top personal income tax rate for the wealthy of 39.6 percent — other elements still had to be resolved, including the income levels for the tax brackets.

California wildfire insurance claims top $3.3B

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Property damage claims from a series of deadly October wildfires now exceed $3.3 billion, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said Tuesday.

The figure represents claims for homes and businesses insured by 15 companies and is more than triple the previous estimate of $1 billion. Jones said the number will continue to rise as more claims are reported.

The amount of claims now reported means that the fires caused more damage than California’s 1991 Oakland Hills fire, which was previously the state’s costliest, with $2.7 billion in damages in 2015 dollars, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

Forty-three people were killed in the blazes that tore through Northern California. They destroyed thousands of buildings as more than 100,000 people were forced to evacuate.

The fires are now nearly contained.

Senators blast Facebook, Twitter, Google in Russia probe

WASHINGTON — Exasperated U.S. senators harshly criticized representatives of Facebook, Twitter and Google at a hearing Tuesday for not doing more to prevent Russian agents interfering with the American political process as early as 2015.

At one point, Sen. Al Franken shook his head after he couldn’t get all the companies to commit to not accepting political ads bought with North Korean currency.

The hearing by a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary panel was moved last week into a cavernous hearing room usually reserved for high-profile events like Supreme Court confirmations. About 50 people waited to get in as senators fired pointed questions and waved at cardboard displays of outrageous ads.

“People are buying ads on your platform with rubles. They are political ads,” Franken fumed. “You put billions of data points together all the time. … Google has all knowledge that man has ever developed. You can’t put together rubles with a political ad and go like, ‘Hmmm, those data points spell out something pretty bad?’”

Technology company representatives fumbled at points. After Franken pointed out foreign spending on U.S. political campaigns is illegal, Google’s director of law enforcement and information security, Richard Salgado, replied only that the search giant would refuse political ads paid with foreign currency “if it’s a good enough signal on illegality.”

Trump admin to defend Cuba embargo at UN

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration will defend America’s decades-old economic embargo on Cuba in a United Nations vote this week, the State Department said Tuesday, in a reversal from the Obama administration that reflects deteriorating U.S.-Cuban relations.

Every year the U.N. votes to condemn the embargo, and for years the U.S. predictably voted “no.” But last year, under President Barack Obama, the U.S. abstained for the first time, as Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro moved forward with the historic warming of relations.

A “no” vote today from U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley will return the United States to a place of extreme isolation within the global community over its policy toward Cuba, potentially undermining the Trump administration’s broader goals for engagement with Latin America. The U.S. embargo on Cuba is almost universally opposed throughout the world.

ADVERTISING

The vote comes as an ongoing crisis over U.S. government workers in Havana harmed by invisible “health attacks” has created a new rift between the U.S. and Cuba, putting the restoration of ties in jeopardy. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert did not mention the attacks in announcing the “no” vote, instead emphasizing the need to promote rights and democracy in Cuba.

By wire sources