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Morning News Brief: Trump's Tax Plan, North Korea, Killings On Facebook Live


And I'm Steve Inskeep with some of the top stories of this day. David, let's talk taxes.


OK, if you insist - it's what I want to talk about every time I wake up in the morning.


GREENE: Taxes, yeah. So President Trump teased this tax announcement on Twitter over the weekend. And a lot of people in Washington were speculating this would be part of his agenda before he hits his hundredth-day mark in office. But then his administration scaled it back and said it would just be broad principles. This is Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at the White House on Monday.


STEVEN MNUCHIN: We've been clear on what the president's objectives are for tax reform - middle income tax cut, a priority of the president's - simplification. The average American should be able to do their taxes on a large postcard. Business tax reform, we need to make business taxes competitive. And we expect with doing that we will bring back trillions of dollars from offshore.

INSKEEP: OK, Domenico Montanaro of NPR's Politics team is in our studios to talk about this. Hi, Domenico.


INSKEEP: OK, broad principles, large postcards - what are we getting here?

MONTANARO: Well, essentially those are guidelines in the same way that you would get in a campaign. There's this 15 percent business tax rate cut that Trump had laid out during the campaign. And it includes...

INSKEEP: Much lower taxes for corporations, OK.

MONTANARO: Far lower - they pay, you know, 35 percent or so, 39.6 if you're a company that pays it through your own income, like most private businesses or small businesses. And the key there is because that actually would directly benefit Donald Trump. It would save him tens of millions of dollars a year because that's how his businesses are set up. There would be tax cuts across the board, including a modest one for those considered middle-class. It would seek to simplify the tax code.

But, you know, people talk about the idea of putting taxes on a postcard, like Mnuchin did there, but it can also mean doing away with popular deductions, like the home mortgage interest deduction, something that Mnuchin promised Trump would scale back in December.

INSKEEP: And a good reminder here - I mean, your principle, your idea can be unicorns. But you've got to figure out how to make unicorns come true. And let's pick up on one of the things you mentioned, Domenico, because while campaigning, now-President Trump repeatedly made this promise.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Under my plan, no American company will pay more than 15 percent of their business income in taxes.

INSKEEP: OK, that's a big cut because it's 35 percent now...

MONTANARO: It sure is.

INSKEEP: ...Which is pretty high compared to some other countries, which is why they want to do it. But if you cut taxes that much, it would cost trillions of dollars in revenue to the government. Has the president said how he wants to replace the money?

MONTANARO: In one ambiguous word, growth. You know, experts, though, during the campaign said that Trump's various iterations of his tax plan would blow a huge hole in the budget - trillions of dollars, even bigger than the Bush tax cuts. And that was true even using something called dynamic scoring, which takes growth into account.

INSKEEP: And so is this a serious tax plan?

MONTANARO: You know, it's a serious tax plan in the sense that he's bringing it forward. It's not in the form of legislation at this point. But he's going to have to work out a lot of things with Congress, with Democrats as well. And at this point, it's at the infant stages.


GREENE: You know, working with Democrats, there's been talk of maybe infrastructure spending being something that would bring Democrats on board. If Congress ever takes all of this up, I mean, this will be a test for an institution that hardly anyone trusts. The last Gallup poll, 20 percent of Americans approve of what Congress is doing. This is sounding like there are familiar battle lines that will be drawn. But then again, there are some scholars who say it's not such a bad thing for the country if Congress does big things only rarely.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Well, there you go. NPR's Domenico Montanaro does the big thing of coming by to talk with us early in the morning quite often.

GREENE: He sure does.

MONTANARO: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Domenico, thanks very much. And, David, here's a big thing, in a way. The entire United States Senate is getting together today.

GREENE: Yeah, for a bus trip - a short bus trip.

INSKEEP: OK, a field trip.

GREENE: Later today, every single member of the Senate - a field trip, if you were - yeah. They're climbing on buses and heading up to Pennsylvania Avenue, down Pennsylvania Avenue for a classified meeting at the White House on North Korea. The word is that President Trump might stop by for a time. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer gave the press some hints about what the briefing would cover.


SEAN SPICER: The secretary of state and others are going to talk about our posture and the activities that we're undergoing. And Chairman Dunford will lay out some of the military actions and the way that they see the lay of the land. I mean, they're going to answer questions as they routinely do on a situation like this.

GREENE: And, Steve, we should say it's been announced the House will get its own North Korea briefing on Capitol Hill after the Senate gets theirs - but no bus trip for the House.

INSKEEP: Oh, that's too bad. Well, Holly Bailey is with us next. She's a former White House correspondent for Newsweek, now a national correspondent for Yahoo! News. She's in New York. Good morning.

HOLLY BAILEY: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So what are the mechanics of this? I'm just trying to think of the layout of the White House. Do they have a secure room for a hundred or so?

BAILEY: Well, they're going to be meeting in the old Executive Office Building, which is right next door to the White House. And White House officials have said they're getting together a conference room where they're going to fit all these members of the Senate in there. So that's the mechanics of it. But what we know about the background of this is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, had asked the White House for a briefing on what the thinking was going forward on North Korea. And as you guys mentioned, what's unusual about it is that the President Trump himself offered up this space. And that's fairly unusual. You know, members of Congress and members of the Senate get briefings like this all the time on the Hill. You see people going down there to give these briefings. But this time, they're going to the White House. And that's the very unusual thing about this.

INSKEEP: OK, useful to know that Mitch McConnell asked for this - that the president was not the person who originated this - because, of course, people are trying to read into this. What are the future actions of the administration? What, if anything, does this meeting tell us about the intentions of the administration with North Korea?

BAILEY: I think that's what is the open question on every member of the Senate's mind as they go down to the White House today. I mean, this does come against the backdrop of some notable developments, including today, we saw the U.S. moving and anti-missile defense system into South Korea and, you know, the movement of a warship. And so I think that that's something that everyone's sort of watching. Is this - is this a sign that we are potentially going to take action against North Korea?

INSKEEP: Well, help us - we don't know exactly what the president's going to decide. But does the president have any better options on North Korea than any previous president has had?

BAILEY: It's unclear. I mean, and I think that's something that we're going to, you know, perhaps learn from this meeting because that's one thing that's going to happen, is that - is that, you know, these members of the Senate are probably going to come out and tell us a little bit - shed a little bit of light on what the White House is thinking.

GREENE: You know, Holly said the big question is what exactly the administration knows right now. I spoke to James Woolsey yesterday. He's the former CIA director, advised President Trump in the campaign. He said the more imminent threat right now from North Korea is them detonating a nuclear bomb in space above the U.S. It could knock out our power grid. So we've really got to keep our eye on the substance of what is said in this briefing and what exactly the administration knows about the North's intentions.

INSKEEP: OK, Holly Bailey of Yahoo! News, speaking to us from New York, thanks very much.

BAILEY: Thank you.


INSKEEP: And let's have a warning here before we begin our final story because it is a story that some - some people may just want to hit pause or something at this point because some people are going to find this disturbing.

GREENE: Yeah, this is pretty awful. A man in Thailand killed his infant daughter on Facebook Live and then ended his own life. The footage of this has been removed. Earlier today, Thai police said two videos of this incident were actually up for nearly 24 hours before Facebook took them down. A company spokesperson, we should say, said in an email that this is appalling, and there's absolutely no place for these kinds of acts on the social network.

INSKEEP: NPR's Aarti Shahani covers technology. She's been following this story. Hi, Aarti.


INSKEEP: So if there's absolutely no place for this, what did Facebook do to stop it?

SHAHANI: (Laughter) Well, what we do and don't know is that Facebook removed the content. What we don't know is how long it actually took them. Were they first told by the Thai authorities and then yanked it? Or did they take a while after a user told them while it was live streaming? Facebook hasn't disclosed those details.

INSKEEP: They haven't given a timeline as to when they learned that this was happening and how quickly they acted or anything like that.

SHAHANI: No, no, not in this instance.

INSKEEP: So we do know at least that they took it down eventually. There's now this larger question because there have been multiple incidents, including a couple just recently, of people killing other people on Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO, has said it's a problem. What is Facebook planning to do about it?

SHAHANI: You know, we don't know that either. And the silence from the company is really noteworthy here. Zuckerberg was onstage last week at a major conference, and he said, we will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening. But, you know, full stop, he didn't give a single detail.

Now, here's an interesting fact. Facebook rolled out live-streamed video, Facebook Live, a year ago. And a source familiar with the company tells NPR when Live was being developed, people inside Facebook absolutely had conversations about the fact that yes, of course Facebook users would commit murder on Facebook Live. People were already posting murder videos on Youtube and video, so why wouldn't they use Live for that too? So that part was not surprising.

INSKEEP: Is there a part of the company that is arguing simply that live means live? It is life. It is how people live. It is supposed to be free and open. And there's really not something that the company wants to do about it.

SHAHANI: There's absolutely tension within the company about what about Facebook Live needs to be fixed, what's just inherent to the product and still an overall good. So some very basic things they could do, though, for Facebook Live, is reduce the time it takes to remove violent content - right? - like, say by hiring more human staff to look at stuff when it's flagged more quickly.

They could also work on not making so many mistakes because there are multiple instances where content is flagged, a Facebook employee or subcontractor looks at it and then gets it wrong, then goes back and changes their mind about it. One last thing they could possibly do is use artificial intelligence to detect violent content faster. So, like, if a video is live and people are reacting with the tearing emoji and the gasping emoji instead of like buttons, that's a clue of something.

INSKEEP: Good reminder - and, of course, one person's saving - saving Facebook would also be censorship to another person. Aarti, thanks very much.

SHAHANI: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Aarti Shahani. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
Aarti Shahani is a correspondent for NPR. Based in Silicon Valley, she covers the biggest companies on earth. She is also an author. Her first book, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct. 1, 2019), is about the extreme ups and downs her family encountered as immigrants in the U.S. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in her native New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Even if it looks like she keeps changing careers, she's always doing the same thing: telling stories that matter.
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