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Hey, Trump, it's the 'estate tax,' not the 'death tax'

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. Today is the deadline for Republicans in the Senate to pass an Obamacare repeal bill without Democratic support. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Try to think of a fairer tax than the levy on estates worth more than $5.5 million upon an individual’s death. It’s a tax only on the wealthiest Americans. It’s a tax on unearned income. It’s a tax that affects only 0.2% of estates. It incentivizes wealthy Americans to donate to charity or otherwise put their vast sums of money to good use before they die. What’s not to like?

Plenty, apparently, but only if you believe the Republican “death tax” label isn’t completely dishonest. In a speech promoting the tax overhaul proposed by the White House and GOP leaders in Congress, Vice President Mike Pence cited the plan’s scuttling of the so-called death tax as an example of how it will benefit middle-class Americans. It’s an example, writes The Times Editorial Board, of how the Republican tax plan purports to do what it likely will not:

Still, some Republicans insist that the tax is unfair because it forces some people to sell the family farm or small business they inherited just to pay the Internal Revenue Service. In his speech Thursday, Pence cited dairy farmer Hank Choate, who “says he needs a tax cut so he can keep the family farm when we repeal death taxes, once and for all.”

But if Choate’s family pays the estate tax after his demise, it would be the exception, not the rule. The non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimates that only 50 family farms and small businesses will pay estate taxes in 2017. That’s about 0.4% of the family farms that passed into estates in 2016. And the average tax rate paid by those 50, the center estimated, is 6%.

In other words, while the tax burden on some families may be large enough to force them to sell their holdings, that rarely happens. …

If anything, ending the estate tax increases the tax burden on working families by lifting some of the load off of the wealthiest ones. But that’s just another detail about the GOP tax plan that top Republicans aren’t touting.

Remember how the Nazis almost took hold in Los Angeles? You might not, but USC historian Steven J. Ross wrote a book about it. In an interview with Patt Morrison, Ross unveils some stunning details about the Nazi effort to gain a foothold in the United States through Los Angeles, including plots to capture and hang Jews in Hollywood, the indifference by police to planned Brown Shirt raids on National Guard armories and the susceptibility of local ports to Nazi smuggling. “I would say it can happen here; it did happen here,” Ross warns. L.A. Times

Why on Earth should it be easier to buy a gun silencer? Peter Ambler sees only two possible reasons: for would-be criminals to more easily inflict harm on our communities, and for gun companies to increase their profits. Plus, making silencers more readily available does not poll well, and yet a bill in Congress to cut gun regulations throughout the country would make them readily available without background checks at gun shows. L.A. Times

Mötley Crüe co-founder Nikki Sixx survived a heroin overdose in 1987. He’s been sober for 16 years, and he believes our government has been woefully neglectful in trying to stop the opioid epidemic. In a Times op-ed article, Sixx writes that Trump has publicly talked a good game on addressing the crisis but advocates policies that hamper addiction-recovery programs and put more users in prison. Plus, the president’s private expression of contempt for addicts — once referring to New Hampshire as a “drug-infested den” — does not inspire confidence among people desperate for help. L.A. Times

Ban gas-powered cars in California? Are we crazy? One California assemblyman vows to introduce legislation next year banning the sale of new cars with internal-combustion engines starting in 2040. For places like Los Angeles and San Francisco, where the roads are already packed and the proliferation of autonomous vehicles holds great promise, this seems feasible, perhaps even necessary. But for the state’s vast interior of farmland and sparsely populated mountain ranges, it may be a non-starter. Sacramento Bee

Stupid, but not criminal.” That’s the judgment by Bush administration ethics lawyer and frequent Trump critic Richard W. Painter of the Clintonesque email “scandal” embroiling Jared Kushner and other White House officials found to have used a private server. But, warns Doyle McManus, “stupidity and incompetence matter. In high enough places, in large enough quantities, they can bring down a presidency.” L.A. Times

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