Saturday, the 23rd of December
This week the United States House of Representatives passed a sweeping tax bill 224-201, in doing so it handed President Donald Trump his first major legislative victory of the year. For the first time in decades the tax code faces a serious shake-up. However, the bill falls short of being disciplined, holistic reform and the rushed and hushed manner in which it was introduced has led to considerable confusion both within and outside the US about what it actually contains. 
US President Donald Trump speaking at an event marking the passage of the Republican tax Bill at the White House, in Washington, on Wednesday. This marked the first major legislative win for Mr Trump. PHOTO: NYTIMES
Christmas presents
Trump has described the US$1.5 trillion tax cut as a Christmas gift to all Americans. In some senses he is right; reports suggest that up to 80% of all American households will see a modest tax cut. This means paychecks may grow immediately in the new year.

But there's a twist. While individuals will indeed benefit, the centrepiece of the legislation is the decision to slash America's corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. This is a victory for the Republicans that has been decades in the making. And even though they are being careful not to describe it in these terms, the bill is a sacrifice at the altar of trickle-down economics. Most workers shouldn't expect to benefit from corporate munificence; instead experts suggest that the windfall to companies will most likely flow on to shareholders rather than employees or customers.

Perhaps the most audacious (and to some, the most detestable) part of the bill is the fact that the corporate tax cuts are permanent while the individual cuts will be wound down to nothing by 2025. It's rather likely in fact that after 2025 individual taxpayers will face a higher tax burden.

Non-partisan think-tanks have done the arithmetic and they estimate that middle-income households will receive a tax cut of $900 next year. By comparison, the top 1% of American households will stand to gain $51,000 on average. The fact that the bill is heavily skewed towards rewarding the wealthy manifests in Trump's own likely tax bill. In contrast to unsubstantiated claims that he would face higher taxes, independent research shows that Trump will personally save $15m next year. His son-in-law Jared Kushner will come home with an extra $12m. And multiple members of the Trump cabinet will save several million a piece. 

Loose lips
The president was understandably buoyed by the passage of the bill. In fact, in his excitement he let slip that he thinks the most salient part of the bill is the corporate tax cut. The admission sharply contradicted statements by House leader Paul Ryan and Senate leader Mitch McConnell both of whom assiduously maintained that the bill's aim first and foremost was to provide tax relief to the middle class. 

For Trump this bill represents the fulfilment of major campaign promises.

First, his promise to make American corporations repatriate their offshore fortunes now seems far more likely to be fulfilled; the trillions that Apple, Pfizer, Google and others have squirrelled away can now be moved back onshore and taxed at incredibly low rates (between 8% and 16%). Little wonder then that corporations like AT&T have lauded the bill and Wall Street bounded at the news. 

Second, Trump has also moved closer to forcing the collapse of Obamacare. The president appeared to not understand that the bill only scraps the individual mandate, not Obamacare itself. But the result will be the same; without an individual mandate to purchase insurance many young and healthy people will drop their cover. This will reduce both the size and the healthiness of the group that continues to seek insurance. Which in turn will increase the costs and risks for insurance companies and ultimately hasten the collapse of the Obamacare model. 

Also in the firing line are America's elderly who rely on Medicare for welfare. The bill cleaves off 4% from Medicare funding to help pay for the tax cuts; a situation that will undoubtedly be exacerbated by an ever-diminishing federal tax haul. During his time in office Paul Ryan has been single-minded in his drive to de-fund and privatise social services like Medicare and Medicaid. He now gets his wish. 

With its ageing population, accelerating disruption and job displacement, and growing concentration of wealth, there is certainly cause for concern about America's new tax bill. But perhaps the single most dizzying facet of the entire process is that, it appears, many Congresspeople simply had not read the bill when they voted for it. 
Cyril Ramaphosa: the president-in-waiting.
Zuma replaced, sidelined - At a typically boisterous meeting of South Africa's ruling party, delegates removed President Jacob Zuma from his position as leader of the African National Congress. It's the first step in what will likely be an ignominious end to his long and controversial political career. Zuma's preferred candidate, his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, was edged out by Cyril Ramaphosa, a mining magnate and close confidant of the late Nelson Mandela. It was a gruelling internal battle for the leadership of the only party that has ruled South Africa since the end of Apartheid.

Ramaphosa snuck over the line with just 179 votes more than Dlamini-Zuma (from a pool of over 4000 ANC delegates). In a pointed reference to the complex web of corruption that has tainted Zuma's government and the ANC itself, Ramaphosa announced his intention to lead an anti-graft drive. Although many within South Africa have tired of the scandals and mismanagement within the ANC over the last 23 years, it's likely that Ramaphosa will still sweep the 2019 elections to become the country's next president.  
A barricade burns in Honduras.
A pair of elections - Juan Orlando Hernandez has been returned to the Honduran presidency in a most unconvincing manner. Three weeks after a hotly contested election, the national electoral watchdog has announced a narrow win for the incumbent. In doing so it has brushed aside local and international claims of vote-rigging and fraud. Violent protests across the capital have been met with a fierce police crack down, leaving many to wonder whether the country is drifting back once more towards the unrest of the late '00s. Despite the inconsistencies in the vote, the US State Department has backed Hernandez.

What can we say about the other major vote this week? Well, to quote Yogi Berra, it was "deja vu all over again". Catalonians have reelected a pro-independence government to their regional parliament (albeit by a slim margin). Exiled leader Carles Puigdemont's party won the lion's share of the vote, even though he can hardly assume power from his hideaway in Belgium. The result mirrors the separatist-leaning region's 2015 election results and leaves Spain's PM Mariano Rajoy in a spot of bother. It seems that even as Puigdemont's former cabinet ministers are dragged through the courts in Madrid, divisions are hardening in Catalonia. There is no easy path forward for Rajoy.
A tax cloudburst after a parched legislative year.
  1. A court found Trump not in breach of emolument law
  2. He announced an 'America First' security policy
  3. But there's a good chance he hadn't read it.
  4. His Jerusalem plan was utterly trashed at the UN
  5. CDC officials savaged planned language restrictions
  6. WH proxies signalled a wish to fire Robert Mueller
  7. second court blocked Trump's birth control restrictions
  8. Trump commuted a meatpacking executive's sentence
  9. His pick for the Ex-Im bank was rejected by the Senate
  10. Questions were raised about Trump's views on UFOs
The truth is out there.
Aliens - There's no punchline here. Details have leaked concerning a Pentagon task force that is war-gaming America's response to interstellar threats. Aliens. One former staff member has alleged that in 2004 a warship and two air force fighters tracked (visually and with radar) a UFO that outmanoeuvred them with ease and dove under water 160 km off the coast of San Diego. First contact!

Another report suggests that the government is in possession of an alloy that does not correspond with any metals found on Earth.

Usually the inkl team would leave this kind of conjecture to the tabloids but this particular story has multiple citations and has been widely reported by the international press. Although now that we think about it, the story may have been better off featured below, in The Worst Of Times...
All roads lead to Europe.
Climate refugees - A startling new report has found that an extra 1m people will be displaced by climate change and will seek asylum in Europe every year by the end of this century. The massive increase of migration will be a result of the hundreds of millions (if not billions) of people threatened by desertification and rising sea levels. This number is independent of refugees from conflict, famine or economic migration.

De-wilding the world - We're losing the wilderness: 10% of the world's total untouched landmass has disappeared under human use in the last two decades alone. As the human population balloons past sustainable levels we are using more and more pristine land. Ecologists are of the opinion that once it's gone, it's gone for good.
Your weekend long reads...

First up, a cracker from the Financial Times into China's soft-power diplomacy. Influence is being bought wholesale in Australia and the South Pacific. Needless to say the local politicians and spooks are skittish.

Second, The Economist has revealed its Country of the Year. Our guess is that it's not America or North Korea. 

Last but certainly not least, here is your entire holiday season sorted: The Atlantic's 50 Best Podcasts of 2017. Happy listening.

Enjoy your weekend. If Christmas is for you, enjoy it. If not, we hope you have a wonderful day regardless. 

Thank you.