The U.S. commander of troops in Afghanistan said that American intelligence officials have not been able to confirm the existence of a Russian bounty program offering Taliban militants rewards for targeting U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
“It just has not been proved to a level of certainty that satisfies me,” General Frank McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, told NBC News.
“We continue to look for that evidence. I just haven’t seen it yet,” the general said, adding, “it’s not a closed issue.”
Reports broke in June that U.S. intelligence found that at least one American soldier, as well as a number of Afghan civilians, died as a result of the secret bounty payments.
Some bounties as high as $100,000 were reportedly paid for each U.S. or allied troop killed, and several American service-members were reported to have died as a result of monetary rewards that a Russian military intelligence unit offered to terrorist militants to target U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. But McKenzie doesn’t believe the intelligence is conclusive.
“I found what they presented to me very concerning, very worrisome. I just couldn’t see the final connection, so I sent my guys back and said, look, keep digging. So we have continued to dig and look because this involves potential threats to U.S. forces, it’s open,” McKenzie said of reviewing the intelligence on the issue. “I just haven’t seen anything that closes that gap yet.”
“People that are involved in it get very emotional about it,” he added. “I can’t afford to be emotional about it. I’ve got to step back and look at the totality of the picture.”
Intelligence about the alleged bounty offerings by Russia was reportedly included in the president’s daily written intelligence briefing in February, but the White House claims Trump was not verbally briefed on the matter until media reports on the claim.
In July, President Trump said he has never discussed the intelligence with Russian President Vladimir Putin despite several phone calls between the two heads of state since the intelligence was made known. Trump has argued that reports of Russian bounties, which were disputed by the National Security Agency, were inconclusive and thus “didn’t rise to the level” at which he would be verbally briefed.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly warned Russia’s foreign minister against placing bounties on the heads of American soldiers during a July 13 phone call.
McKenzie said that if Russia is targeting American troops in Afghanistan he “won’t hesitate to take action if that’s the case. I just haven’t seen it.”
“There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, but nothing was out there that I could grasp that connect together in a pattern that I would consider actionable,” McKenzie said.
In response to the media reports of bounties, the House Armed Services Committee voted to add an amendment to the latest defense bill that makes any further withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan contingent on whether any country has paid the Taliban or any other groups to attack American troops.
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Major U.S. hospital chain reportedly hit with ‘1 of the largest medical cyberattacks’ in history
Universal Health Services’ computer network will reportedly remain out of order for days after a massive ransomware attack.
Computer systems at the hospital network’s 400-plus locations reportedly began failing over the weekend, forcing some workers to begin taking records by hand and even hand-labeling medications, nurses tell NBC News. Computers may remain out of service for days as the chain deals with what might be “one of the largest medical cyberattacks in United States history,” NBC News reports.
Attacks starting early Sunday morning locked computers and phones at several UHS facilities, including those in California and Florida, people with direct knowledge of the incident tell TechCrunch. Mysterious messages referencing a “shadow universe,” which reflects messaging from the Russian cybercrime group Ryuk, then began filling the screens, one person said. “Everyone was told to turn off all the computers and not to turn them on again. We were told it will be days before the computers are up again,” the person said.
UHS said Monday its network was down due to an “IT security issue.” The issue did not jeopardize patient care, and “no patient or employee data appears to have been accessed, copied, or otherwise compromised,” the statement continued. An executive who manages cybersecurity at another major U.S. hospital system affirmed to TechCrunch patients’ data was “likely safe.”
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Chelsea Clinton slams Trump but says Barron is off limits
Chelsea Clinton has no problem throwing criticism at President Donald Trump, but says Barron Trump is off limits. The former first daughter joined Spotify’s Jemele Hill Is Unbothered podcast where she talked about the current political climate and how it hits home.
Chelsea, who shares three children with husband Marc Mezvinsky, was asked about how much their young children understand the Clintons’ place in American history. Chelsea is the only child of former president Bill Clinton and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
“They’re aware,” the author and activist replied. “We call my dad pop pop, they’re aware that pop pop was president. And they’re aware that grandma ran for president… so they definitely know that about their grandparents.”
However, Chelsea — whose kids are ages 6, 4 and 1 — explained that her house is more focused on the future than the past. Admittedly, she said they talk “a lot” more about President Trump.
“We talk a lot about coronavirus and how poorly we think Donald Trump has done,” she explained. “That we’re doing our parts — staying home when we can, wearing masks whenever we go outside — and how Donald Trump doesn’t even believe that you should stay home. Like, he goes golfing all the time, or he doesn’t wear a mask and how wrong that is and irresponsible that is. We talk a lot about Donald Trump, like, as a bully.”
Clinton explained how her two oldest children understand what’s happening, so she tries to talk to them in language that they will understand.
“They know it’s important to wear a mask. So, why is the president not wearing a mask? They know that they should treat everyone with respect. Why is the president so disrespectful? They know families should be together. Why does the president separate children from their parents? So, you know, we — we talk about things that we really think they’ll understand because of what’s happening in their own lives, or just because of kind of how they’re living their lives because they’re citizens. They’re little kids, but they’re citizens. I want them to grow up understanding that being a good citizen is part of being a good person,” she added.
“So yes, they’re aware of their grandparents and they’re proud of their grandparents… but at least in our house, we’re far more focused on this election and, kind of, Donald Trump is a bad president and why we think Joe Biden and Kamala Harris need to kind of succeed him and what we’re going to do to try to help make that possible — voting, advocacy and more,” Chelsea concluded.
Hill asked whether it’s a struggle to shield her kids from negative things that are said about her family — especially when one of those people is the president.
“Thankfully it’s not so much a struggle because they are so young, but we have talked to them a little bit about how Donald Trump says mean things… about grandma and pop pop,” Chelsea replied. However, she said it’s not too hard as the kids “don’t have their own phones.”
“They’re not watching television by themselves. There have been a couple of times where people like approached us, obviously like pre-COVID in the park and said some things that are unkind,” Chelsea continued.
“To your face?” Hill asked.
“Oh, everything that people say to me on Twitter, they say to me in person,” Chelsea replied. “Like, ‘I wish you were dead.’ I’m sorry you feel that way. ‘I wish your mother aborted you.’ I’m sorry you feel that way. ‘I wish you had died in Benghazi and then maybe your mother would have had a different reaction.’ Like, ‘I hope your children die so your family’s line dies with you.’ Like, ‘I hope your kids wind up in ashes, like that’s where all Jewish kids should wind up.’”
Chelsea admitted “the amount of hate is so intense.” While she said it doesn’t happen often, it “definitely” happens. “You’re always like — what else can you say? Like, ‘I’m so sorry you feel that way.’ I don’t feel that way about your kids. Like, I wish you nothing but the best, hope you have a better day tomorrow. You know?”
It’s not just her own children she feels protective of as Chelsea explained she has “a sorority of sorts” with other first children.
“I very much felt protective of the Bush twins who were just a little bit younger than me and certainly very protective of Sasha [Obama] and Malia [Obama],” she explained. “I wanted them to have as normal a life as possible. I knew that was going to be hard.”
Chelsea said she feels “very protective” of Barron Trump, too.
“I think he was 11 when his dad won and that’s a year younger than I was when my dad went and took office. Like he’s a kid. He’s a kid! Leave him alone,” she declared. “Who knows what he’s going to be like when he grows up, like that’s none of our business. And I really don’t like it when people comment on the clothing choices of, like, when Sasha, Malia were there or Barron Trump. Don’t objectify this kid.”
“I think he just turned 14… leave him alone,” Chelsea added. But she noted she has “a whole lot of sympathy” for “any critiques, criticism, pain, anger you want to hurl at his parents,” but that Barron should be left alone.
Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:
How rich Americans avoid taxes
Like President Donald Trump, rich Americans often deploy sophisticated tax avoidance strategies to maximize their wealth.
Not to be confused with tax evasion, which is illegal, tax avoidance is entirely legal, even if many view it as unfair.
A sweeping New York Times report published Sunday revealed numerous tax reduction strategies used by Trump. He’s not alone. Affluent taxpayers often have more avenues than ordinary Americans to avoid paying Uncle Sam.
Wealthy Americans are the largest source of underreported income, according to IRS data analyzed by researchers. The top 1% of American taxpayers account for about 34% of misreported income, according to a study published in the National Tax Journal.
Many wealthy Americans deploy complex, arcane but wholly legal strategies to minimize their tax obligations. Some use fairly straightforward strategies that allow them to minimize their taxes under the tax code.
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Here are some of the most common tax avoidance strategies deployed by the wealthy:
Growing wealth through investments
It’s much harder to avoid taxes on your paycheck than on your investments.
In general, the federal government taxes regular wages at higher rates than investment income. The long-term capital gains tax rate maxes out at 20%, and the highest income tax rate is 37%.
In other words, if you make a salary of $1 million, the government keeps $370,000. If you make $1 million on stocks or similar investments, the government keeps $200,000.
Selling assets at strategic times
Taxes on assets such as stocks and real estate investments aren’t owed until they are sold. That helps people such as Jeff Bezos, the Amazon CEO, founder and richest person in the world, grow their wealth rapidly while avoiding a huge tax bill. Then they can be strategic about when they sell.
By stockpiling assets without selling, rich investors can minimize their tax burden.
“Wealthy individuals can wait to sell until it makes the most sense for them, such as a year in which they will have large capital losses to offset the gain,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Unrealized capital gains accounted for more than one-third of the assets held by the richest 1% of Americans in 2013, according to a Federal Reserve analysis. By comparison, the bottom 90% of Americans have only 6% of their assets in unrealized capital gains.
Using business income loopholes to reduce personal tax liability
The 2017 tax bill passed signed into law by Trump allowed for a 20% deduction on certain business income that passes through partnerships, sole proprietorships and S-corporations.
This is income that individuals report on their personal IRS returns, but the tax break allows them to reduce the tax rate on that money by up to 7.4 points, according to the CBPP.
This setup is most likely to help the wealthy: 61% of the benefits go to the wealthiest 1% of Americans, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Lisa De Simone, associate professor of accounting at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas-Austin, said many tax breaks available for business owners were put in place to stimulate risk-taking and innovation.
“There’s a notion that there are lots of tips and tricks that only the wealthy can take advantage of,” De Simone said. “The provisions weren’t written to try to help the wealthy get away with things.”
Instead, she said, new businesses can benefit when they’re able to deduct early losses from income.
“You don’t have to be super-rich in order to claim a business loss,” she said.
Taking advantage of death tax policies to enrich their heirs
The tax code allows Americans to build wealth through deferred capital gains, then pass those assets tax-free along to their heirs upon death.
Called the “stepped-up basis” tax break, this loophole “encourages wealthy people to turn as much of their income into capital gains as possible and hold on to assets until death, when a lifetime of gain becomes permanently exempt from tax,” according to the CBPP.
The inheritor could be subject to paying the estate tax if the total value of the estate exceeds a certain threshold, but that threshold has been substantially increased.
The 2017 tax law doubled the amount of a deceased person’s wealth that’s shielded from the estate tax from about $5.5 million to more than $11 million. The limit is poised to reset to its original amount in 2025 unless Congress takes action.
Contributing: Susan Tompor of the Detroit Free Press
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump tax returns: How rich Americans avoid taxes
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