Thursday, January 28, 2021

Trump and Bin Laden

I've been staying away from general political commentary in this blog, notwithstanding which I have of course been watching recent months' Washington dramas with amazement and a great deal of anger.

But now that Trump appears to be on the verge of being whitewashed by Republicans, and left by them in charge of a major political party from which he can continue to do great harm - although his having been silenced, for now, is incredibly merciful - I'll just make a brief comment here.

Trump is one of two people - Bin Laden is the other - to have orchestrated a violent attack on the US Capitol Building in the last twenty years. (The Capitol Building is believed to have been Flight 93's target.) Both were acts of war against the United States, although Bin Laden's was a foreign attack and Trump's a domestic one. Trump's attack not only came closer to success - they actually breached the building - but aimed to do far more to destroy our institutions and way of life. Bin Laden's was a raid, meant to terrorize and provoke a response that would feed further escalation of ongoing global conflicts. Trump's was meant to decapitate the legislative branch, with accompanying mass murder and hostage-taking, and to put a permanent end to democratic (small-d) governance in the United States.

After 9/11, there was (to say the least) no U.S. domestic support for Bin Laden. Given that what Trump attempted was just as bad, and indeed in some ways worse, it is remarkable that he should retain any domestic support or even tolerance, outside of the most extreme terrorist elements in our country.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Great new development at NYU Law School

 As is detailed here, NYU Law School has just established a new Tax Law Center. My colleagues Lily Batchelder and David Kamin spearheaded its creation, and Chye-Ching Huang is its Executive Director. 

As is more fully detailed here, the Tax Law Center will "seek[] to protect and strengthen the nation’s tax system through rigorous, high-impact legal work in the public interest. Its work includes offering technical input on tax legislation, submitting comments on tax regulations, and intervening in tax litigation, with the goals of protecting and improving the integrity of the tax system, saving and raising revenues, and advancing equity.

"The Center seeks to ensure that there is also a public interest voice—informed by deep tax technical expertise—that has input into the technical legal decisions that shape the tax system."

There is nothing out there today that does anything like this. E.g., the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, which adds immense value to public understanding and debate, is engaged in a completely different enterprise.

The problems that the Tax Law Center can help to address have been well-known, as well as chronic, for more than 60 years. Stanley Surrey wrote about them in an ahead-of-its-time Harvard Law Review article from 1957 (!). As he noted about tax legislation in particular - but it is also true with respect to the tax regulatory process and tax litigation - there is rarely a public interest voice that could counterbalance private companies pushing their own interests.

At times, tax academics have made ad hoc efforts to fill the gap and address the imbalance. During the 2017 act's highly truncated legislative process, Kamin directed the writing and publication of the "Tax Games I and II" articles, pointing out a lot of the problems, that were so widely downloaded at the time. A number of us have also participated in writing and signing amicus briefs in federal tax cases where there was a risk of really bad and poorly informed outcomes. But the Tax Law Center moves towards institutionalizing the creation of an independent, expert voice that can reduce the information imbalances and faulty, biased analyses that can so contribute to bad outcomes.

 NYU may also do well here by doing good. Creating the Tax Law Center strengthens and expands our tax law community and enterprise, while also bringing opportunities here that are not so available elsewhere.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Horrible and tragic news

 I'm extremely saddened to learn, via Tax Prof although the underlying link is here, of David Shakow's death from COVID-19. David, an emeritus professor at U Penn Law School, was a friend and treasured colleague (though we were not at the same school) for many years. He was not only a first-rate scholar but a kind and gentle person who was great company. 

This news also makes me angry (or angrier) about the criminal indifference to COVID's spread that warped this country's response to COVID at least through yesterday (January 20). When you look at excess COVID deaths, in proportion to population, in the US as compared to peer countries, you see that there are people with blood on their hands who ought to be punished for their reckless indifference to our people's welfare and their own responsibilities.

But I don't wish to hijack this comment away from praising and remembering David. Just one example of his excellent work is this piece, coauthored with his Penn colleague Reed Shuldiner, that was twenty years ahead of its time.