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The IRS has a big opportunity to fix the way Americans file taxes

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The IRS has a big opportunity to fix the way Americans file taxes
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen oversees the IRS and could lead tax filing reform efforts. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The next big Joe Biden spending package is coming: This week, the Senate narrowly passed, on party lines, a budget resolution designed to enable as much as $3.5 trillion in new spending over 10 years.

Congressional Democrats say the spending package will be paid for, and they have been clear about one of the main sources of funding: the IRS. The Biden administration has proposed an $80 billion funding boost to the agency over 10 years as part of its “American Families Plan,” an increase of more than 50 percent to the agency’s normal budget. The Biden team estimates that could raise nearly $700 billion over that same period, paying for itself nine times over. That could fund a huge number of other Biden initiatives, from an enhanced child tax credit to paid family and medical leave to child care assistance.

President Biden delivered remarks on the need for his administration’s proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief legislation alongside Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in February 2020.
Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images


But it could also pay for an improvement to the tax system itself. While no one in the administration or Congress seems to be making much noise about this, the IRS funding plan could be a golden opportunity to force the agency to join the rest of the world in offering a free, easy-to-use service that all Americans can use to file their taxes.

The timing is auspicious for such an endeavor. As you may know, if you make $72,000 or less, you’re eligible for a free return through the IRS Free File program, including software provided by Intuit, the company that operates TurboTax. If you make more, you’re eligible for Free File Fillable Forms, an Intuit product.

That system is now falling apart. Intuit is pulling out of its arrangement with the US government, which could mean the end of the only online tax filing systems available free of charge to all Americans.

But this collapse may present an opportunity.

For decades, the tax prep industry has succeeded in preventing the IRS from doing what the tax authority in just about every other country does: providing a free, effective, easy-to-use online service where all taxpayers can file their taxes. But it’s doing so just as the Biden administration is attempting to pour billions in new funding into the IRS.

The end of Free File and the conversations in Congress around IRS funding could make this the perfect moment to dismantle our broken tax filing system and build something better.

How to file your taxes for free, explained

Right now, if you’re an American who wants to file your taxes without paying any additional fees to a private company or preparer, you have three options (besides limited “simple return” promotions by the big companies).

You can role-play as someone living in the 1970s and print out the 1040 tax form, along with any associated schedules or forms for tax credits and deductions for which you may be eligible, and compute it all by hand, meticulously collating physical copies of your W-2 and 1099 income statements and any other documentation you need.

Your second option is only slightly less tedious: You can use Free File Fillable Forms, a free service implemented by Intuit that simply copies the physical IRS tax forms and makes them “fillable” so you can type in the numbers. It’ll even do some basic math for you. But you still have to manually enter everything, you can’t import PDFs of your W-2 or other statements, and it’s easy to get confused about exactly which forms you’re expected or required to fill out. I’m an IRS-certified tax preparer, and I gave up using the website this year out of frustration.

Your final option is only available if you make $72,000 a year or less. In that case, you’re eligible for a free return on private tax software through the IRS Free File program. But careful: You might get a ton of spam from whatever company you choose trying to upsell you and get you to pay for fancier options. One investigation found that 14 million Americans were charged by companies for Free File returns that should have cost nothing.

The IRS also funds community tax organizations that can file returns for low-income people, but I can say from experience as a volunteer tax preparer that these groups are underfunded and overworked.

This is an unacceptable state of affairs. Americans should not have to choose between these obviously inadequate and half-baked free options for tax filing and paying a private company. Paying taxes is a legal requirement, and it should be possible to easily do it for free. And it just isn’t possible right now; it’s no wonder that over 91 percent of individual returns filed in 2019 were filed through a paid preparer or a private online service. The current system almost forces you to pay for the privilege of paying your taxes.

Intuit, H&R Block, and America’s broken tax filing system

The Free File and Free File Fillable Forms systems can perhaps best be understood as a kind of peace treaty between the IRS and the private tax preparation industry, specifically Intuit and H&R Block.

For years, the government leaned on those two companies to provide free tax services to Americans in need. But the basic problem with relying on private sector companies that provide paid tax services to provide free ones is that they will always have an incentive to make the free service worse and to make the paid one more attractive. That’s been the story the past couple of decades.

In 2002, as part of a broader effort to improve government technology to take advantage of the internet, the Bush administration proposed that the IRS develop “an easy, no-cost option for taxpayers to file their tax return online.”

This, as ProPublica’s Justin Elliott and Paul Kiel reported, led to a massive lobbying push from Intuit, including a coordinated letter from Republican members of Congress demanding that the IRS not “compete” with private companies, with an implicit threat of reduced IRS funding if it did try to offer free filing.

So the IRS, hamstrung by limited funding to start its own free filing program anyway, negotiated a deal with the tax preparers: The companies would offer low-income Americans free tax prep software, and in exchange, the IRS would promise not to set up a free filing program of its own.

Blame the H&R Block guy for making your taxes suck. Well, not the actor, he’s just doing his job. Blame the CEO, Jeff Jones.
David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images


This is the system that has held from 2002 to the present. The IRS brags that 70 percent of Americans are eligible for Free File, but for the 2019 tax season, only 4.2 million returns out of 157.2 million total were filed through Free File, or 2.6 percent.

H&R Block and Intuit succeeded in making the program a non-entity. In 2019, Elliott and Kiel began documenting how the two companies were undermining Free File, from hiding their Free File options from Google results to tricking their clients into paying when they could file for free.

Their reporting led by the end of the year to significant changes to the Free File program. The IRS added an addendum to its deal with tax preparers. The new provisions prohibited companies from blocking Free File search results and tried to reduce deceptive marketing, and, more crucially, dropped the ban on the IRS developing its own free file option.

This, perhaps unsurprisingly, led to backlash from the tax prep industry.

Last year, H&R Block became the first preparer to leave the Free File Alliance, meaning it would no longer provide free returns to all low-income Americans through the program. Intuit followed suit this July by announcing it would pull TurboTax from the program as well.

This doesn’t entirely gut the program — other services like TaxSlayer and TaxAct are still available — but it removes the program’s two most popular service providers. Most importantly, Intuit’s withdrawal throws the future of Free File Fillable Forms, which it develops for the Free File Alliance, into question.

This chaos is particularly important for low-income people. Some of America’s most important safety net programs exist as parts of the tax code, in particular the earned income tax credit (EITC) and the child tax credit (CTC); so did the economic impact payments, better known as “stimulus checks,” last year. Having access to a free program to file taxes and access these credits is consequential for a lot of families.

But this chaos could also provide an opening for something better.

How Biden and the IRS can fix tax filing

The IRS desperately needs to put together an easier-to-use, simpler way for people to file their taxes and access benefits free of charge. Accomplishing that, of course, is easier said than done. The IRS has been underfunded for decades and does not have sufficient in-house technical expertise to build a free file system on its own.

But there are signs suggesting that the limitations keeping the IRS from enabling free filing are falling away.

First, the agency removed the ban limiting it from offering such a product in 2019. Then the Biden administration made increased funding to the agency one of its top domestic spending priorities, as well it should — funding the IRS increases tax revenue and pays for itself several times over. While the provision fell out of the bipartisan infrastructure deal over Republican opposition, it’s set to be used as a pay-for in Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending package.

That could provide the funding necessary for the IRS to make free filing a reality — and Intuit’s withdrawal from the Free File program could provide some sense of urgency. “The problems with Free File lead me to conclude that it is time for IRS to develop the technology that will allow individuals to access our tax system with minimal burden,” Leslie Book, a professor of tax law at Villanova, told me, in a judgment that echoes many tax law experts I’ve spoken with.

In the near term, the IRS will need a stopgap measure for free tax returns next spring, especially if no provider in the Free File Alliance steps up to replace Intuit in running Free File Fillable Forms. The IRS will likely not have funding and staffing in time to set up an in-house program by then, which means that on a temporary basis it will likely have to repeat the Free File formula of relying on private preparers.

Daniel Hemel, a professor of tax and constitutional law at UChicago, has proposed a simple temporary fix: have the US government pay TaxSlayer, TaxAct, or any of the other remaining Free File companies on a per-return basis to prepare returns for taxpayers, at least low-income ones.

Hemel notes that while this isn’t the same as having the IRS do things in-house, it’s also an improvement on the Free File model, in which tax preparers aren’t compensated at all for Free File returns and thus have tremendous incentive to upsell. “Under Free File, companies have literally nothing to lose if they try to upsell & then you quit,” Hemel writes. “Now, they’d be losing out on real revenue.”

In the long run, though, there’s no reason to compensate private firms on a per-return basis. What the government could do instead is build its own free-to-use software for tax filers.

Nina Olson, who served from 2001 to 2019 as the national taxpayer advocate, a position in the IRS advocating for taxpayers and for improved customer service, has been proposing this for years, and today argues for it as executive director of the non-government Center for Taxpayer Rights.

Here’s how it would work: The IRS would start by putting out a request for proposals (RFP) for a new system to be built by private software/IT firms. That RFP could lay out a replica of today’s system, with full-featured software for low-income people and Free File Fillable Forms for others. But it could also just make the full-featured software available to everyone — and should, in my opinion.

It could also create a simplified system for people who don’t owe taxes but are owed the earned income tax credit or child tax credit, to keep the IRS updated on how many children they have and what they’re earning so they can receive their full benefits.

As part of this process, the government would likely lean heavily on some in-house technical expertise. Groups like the US Digital Service, housed in the White House, and Technology Transformation Services, a division of the General Services Administration (GSA) that provides technical assistance to federal agencies are home to software engineers and project managers who can help with designing the RFP and the procurement process.

“What Intuit’s leaving has done is created the momentum. There’s a vacuum now. The IRS is going to have to take some action. It’s an opportunity for US Digital Services etc. to see if they can be of assistance,” Olson says.

A world without tax returns

The IRS could also go a step further from just free filing and experiment with pre-filled returns, an idea that has been floating around tax policy circles for decades.

The actual work of doing your taxes mostly involves rifling through various IRS forms you get in the mail. There are W-2s listing your wages, 1099s showing miscellaneous income like from one-off gigs, etc. The main advantage of TurboTax is that it can import these forms automatically and spare you this step.

But here’s the thing about the forms: The IRS gets them, too. When Vox Media sent me a W-2 telling me how much it paid me in 2020, it sent an identical one to the IRS. When my bank sent me a 1099 telling my wife and me how much interest we earned on our savings account in 2020, it also sent one to the IRS. If I’m not itemizing deductions (like 70 percent of taxpayers), the IRS has all the information it needs to calculate my taxes, send me a filled-out return, and let me either send it right back to the IRS if I’m comfortable with their version or else do my taxes by hand if I prefer.

A California ReadyReturn document
A sample return from California’s ReadyReturn pilot, which briefly allowed for pre-filled returns to be mailed to most Californians, sparing them from filing themselves.
Via Austan Goolsbee/Brookings Institution

This isn’t a purely hypothetical proposal. Countries like Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Chile, and Spain already offer ”pre-populated returns” to their citizens. California experimented with a version called ReadyReturn before it was shut down under pressure from H&R Block and Intuit.

Olson notes that an RFP from the IRS could demand that a free-file option enable pre-filled returns or, at the absolute least, automatically import forms that have been sent to the IRS associated with your or a family member’s Social Security number.

The steps needed from here are simple.

Congress needs to authorize more funding for the IRS. It also ideally would pass the Tax Filing Simplification Act, a proposal dating from 2017 and championed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) that would order the IRS to put together a free-filing system and to offer pre-filled returns. The act could perhaps be included in Democrats’ forthcoming budget reconciliation bill.

The hardest steps toward simplification would involve fixing the tax code itself. In 2019, Olson in her capacity as national taxpayer advocate enlisted Book and other experts to propose changes to make tax code benefits easier to access. They proposed simplifying the earned income tax credit so it was paid out without reference to how many kids a worker has, which could make it easier to pay out over the course of a year rather than at tax time. In exchange, the child tax credit would be enhanced and made bigger, which President Biden has already made steps toward.

A reform like this could make tax filing totally unnecessary for most low-income people. Eliminating breaks like the mortgage interest and charitable deductions would make returns unnecessary for most middle- and upper-middle-class people too.

But those are heavy lifts. A huge first step would be to simply fund the IRS adequately, have it pay private tax preparers to process returns for now, and have it hire a software firm to build a real free-file system with pre-filled returns. That would eliminate the tax prep industry’s stranglehold on our tax system and make the entire process vastly easier for Americans, especially low-income Americans. VOX

 

 

 

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Public Hype Over Indonesia VP Candidate Gibran After ‘rude’ Gesture Against Opponent in Live Debate

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Public Hype Over Indonesia VP Candidate Gibran After ‘rude’ Gesture Against Opponent in Live Debate
Vice presidential candidate number 2 Gibran Rakabuming Raka (right) expressed his views during the Fourth Debate for the 2024 Presidential Election at the Jakarta Convention Center (JCC), Jakarta, Sunday (21/1/2024). ANTARA PHOTO/M Risyal Hidayat

The performance of Indonesian vice-presidential candidate Gibran Rakabuming Raka who is also the son of incumbent President Joko Widodo – has come under fire for his seemingly rude antics during a live debate over the weekend.

It was a stark contrast to the buzz generated by him last month following a second debate organised by Indonesia’s General Election Commission (KPU) that saw Gibran stacking up against his more experienced rivals, with some netizens now calling the antics of the president’s eldest son as cringe.

The debate on Sunday (Jan 21) was the fourth in a series of five debates where presidential candidates and their running mates try to lure voters to the polling booth by promising what they could do should they be elected as Indonesia’s next leaders in the upcoming election on Feb 14.

Sunday’s debate saw the vice-presidential candidates discuss issues such as energy, carbon tax, environment as well as agrarian matters among others.

During the debate involving the three vice-presidential candidates, Gibran – who is the running mate of defence minister Prabowo Subianto made a “ducking” gesture and pretended to search for a lost item, in response to an answer that was given by his rival, Mahfud MD.  Mahfud is running in the election alongside former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo.

The third vice presidential candidate is Muhaimin Iskandar a seasoned politician who has paired up with former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan.

Gibran had earlier quizzed Mahfud about how greenflation can be dealt with in the country. Greenflation refers to inflation caused by green initiatives.

In response, however, Mahfud spoke about the green economy instead of greenflation.

“I was looking for Prof Mahfud’s answer. I was looking for (the answer but) how come I couldn’t find (it)?” asked Gibran while making the “ducking” gesture.

“I asked about the issue of green inflation, but you explained the green economy instead.”

Mahfud then claimed that Gibran was “(making) things up out of thin air”.

“If an academic asks a question like that, it’s not worth answering. There is no point in answering,” he retorted.

On social media platform X, a post featuring videos of the interaction gained over 2.5 million views in less than a day.

 

 

 

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Trump mocks Nikki Haleys first name. Its his latest example of attacking rivals based on race

“You have to dissect politics as politics. It’s not personal,” said Scott. “He’s not intending to demean her or degrade her in any way. He’s just doing that to garner votes.”

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Trump mocks Nikki Haleys first name. Its his latest example of attacking rivals based on race
Nikki Haley Not a tough question. Photographer: Sophie Park/Getty Images

Donald Trump used his social media platform Friday to mock Nikki Haley ‘s birth name, the latest example of the former president keying on race and ethnicity to attack people of color, especially his political rivals.

In a post on his Truth Social account, Trump repeatedly referred to Haley, the daughter of immigrants from India, as “Nimbra.” Haley, the former South Carolina governor, was born in Bamberg, South Carolina, as Nimarata Nikki Randhawa. She has always gone by her middle name, “Nikki.” She took the surname “Haley” upon her marriage in 1996.

Trump, himself the son, grandson and twice the husband of immigrants, called Haley “Nimbra” three times in the post and said she “doesn’t have what it takes.”

The attack comes four days before the New Hampshire primary, in which Haley is trying to establish herself as the only viable Trump alternative in the Republicans’ 2024 nominating contest.

Trump’s post was an escalation of recent attacks in which he referenced Haley’s given first name — though he’s misspelled it “Nimrada” — and falsely asserted she is ineligible for the presidency because her parents were not U.S. citizens when she was born in 1972.

The attacks echo Trump’s “birther” rhetoric against President Barack Obama. Trump spent years pushing the conspiracy theory that the nation’s first Black president was born in Kenya and not a “natural born” U.S. citizen as required by the Constitution. That effort was part of Trump’s rise among Republicans’ most culturally conservative base ahead of his 2016 election that surprised much of the U.S. political establishment.

Haley has dismissed Trump’s latest attacks as proof that she threatens his bid for a third consecutive nomination.

“I’ll let people decide what he means by his attacks,” Haley told reporters in New Hampshire on Friday when asked about Trump’s false assertions that her heritage disqualifies her from the Oval Office. “What we know is, look, he’s clearly insecure if he goes and does these temper tantrums, if he’s spending millions of dollars on TV. He’s insecure, he knows that something’s wrong.”

Trump’s campaign did not reply to an inquiry about his comments.

Since Monday’s Iowa caucuses — which Trump won by 30 points over Ron DeSantis, who placed second — Haley has aimed to portray the rest of the GOP primary battle as a two-way race between Trump and herself despite her narrow third-place finish. Haley’s campaign is aiming for a stronger showing in New Hampshire, hoping for a springboard into her home state South Carolina, which holds the South’s first presidential primary next month.

For his part, Trump bounces between declarations that the nominating fight is already effectively over and blasting Haley as if the two are indeed locked in a tight contest. Trump still criticizes his other remaining rival, DeSantis, but his preferred pejoratives for the Florida governor, “Ron DeSanctimonious” or “Ron DeSanctus,” have nothing to do with race or ethnicity. DeSantis is white.

Trump’s focus on Haley’s name comes as far-right online forums have for months been littered with mentions of her given name alongside racist commentary and false “birther” claims. Haley’s name and family background also have become talking points on the left. Some widely circulating social media posts have called her a hypocrite for saying America was “never a racist country” when she likely experienced racism herself.

Pastor Darrell Scott, a Black man who has led a diversity coalition for Trump’s previous campaigns, defended the former president’s latest attacks as “slings and arrows” that come in election season.

“You have to dissect politics as politics. It’s not personal,” said Scott. “He’s not intending to demean her or degrade her in any way. He’s just doing that to garner votes.”

Scott said Trump “has a compassionate side that most people don’t see” and defended his aggressive approach as a “goose-and-gander situation” for a public figure constantly “under attack for everything.”

Tara Setmayer, senior adviser to the Lincoln Project group that opposes Trump from within the conservative movement, agreed that Trump’s rhetoric works in a Republican primary. But she said that’s a damning reality for the party and does not excuse his behavior.

“These are the rantings of an incredibly, almost pathetically insecure man who has demonstrated over his entire career his racism and bigotry,” said Setmayer, who is multiracial and calls herself a former Republican and now a conservative independent. “Why would anyone expect it to be any different now, when an entire political party has enabled this level of morally questionable behavior?”

Amid the fallout Friday, Trump won the endorsement of South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the Senate’s only Black Republican and formerly a presidential candidate himself. Haley appointed Scott to the Senate in 2012, during her first term as governor.

Trump has a long history of using race, ethnicity and immigrant heritage as a cudgel.

For years, he has referred to Obama as “Barack Hussein Obama,” putting an obvious emphasis on the 44th president’s middle name. Obama was the son of a white American mother and a Black father from Kenya. He was born in Hawaii, though Trump spent years asserting Obama had manufactured the story and a birth certificate to support it. Trump eventually admitted his claims were false but then, during the 2016 general election, said he did so only to “get on with the campaign.”

When David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, encouraged Republican primary voters to back Trump in 2016, Trump responded in a CNN interview that he knew “nothing about David Duke, I know nothing about white supremacists.”

Trump is also among many Republicans who deliberately mispronounce Vice President Kamala Harris’s name. Rather than the correct “KA’-ma-la,” Trump sometimes says, “Ka-MAH-la.” Harris, who is of Indian and Jamaican descent, is the first woman to become vice president and the third non-white person as either president or vice president, following Obama and Charles Curtis, Herbert Hoover’s vice president who had Native American ancestry.

Leading up to Trump’s 2017 inauguration, civil rights icon John Lewis, then a Black congressman from Georgia, said he would not attend Trump’s inauguration because he considered him an illegitimate president. Trump reacted by blasting Lewis’s Atlanta-based district as being in “horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested).” The district includes downtown Atlanta, Coca-Cola’s world headquarters, the Georgia Institute of Technology and principal sites of the 1996 Olympic Games, among other attributes.

During his presidency, Trump questioned during a meeting with lawmakers why the U.S. would accept immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” across Africa instead of countries like Norway. He did not explicitly mention race but the White House followed disclosure of his comments with a statement explaining that Trump supported granting access to the U.S. for “those who can contribute to our society.”

He also has said that four congresswomen of color should go back to the “broken and crime infested” countries they came from, ignoring the fact that all of the women are American citizens and three were born in the U.S.

Trump’s mother was born Mary Anne MacLeod in Scotland and came to the United States between the two world wars. His paternal grandfather, Frederick Trump, was a Barvarian-born immigrant from Germany in the 1880s. Trump’s first wife, Ivana Zelníčková before their marriage, was born in what is now the Czech Republic. His third wife, former first lady Melania Trump, was born Melanija Knavs in what is now Slovenia. That means four of Trump’s five children also are children of immigrants.

Haley frames her family’s story as proof that the U.S. “is not a racist country.” She sometimes highlights her role in taking down the Confederate battle flag from South Carolina statehouse grounds after a racist massacre in her state — though she had sidestepped requests to remove the banner earlier in her term. And Haley has for years navigated Trump’s penchant for racist rhetoric.

“I will not stop until we fight a man that chooses not to disavow the KKK,” Haley said during the 2016 primary campaign after she had endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio over Trump. “That is not a part of our party; that is not who we want as president.”

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AP/Bill Barrow

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Donald Trumps Grip on Republican Politics is Put to The Test in Ice-Cold Iowas Caucuses

Donald Trump’s rally was briefly interrupted by protesters in Iowa Sunday— the first time it’s happened in years. “You’ve taken millions!” a woman shouted as Trump was mid-rally, prompting the crowd to respond with a “Trump!” chant to drown her out. (Jan. 14)

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Donald Trumps Grip on Republican Politics is Put to The Test in Ice-Cold Iowas Caucuses
Republican candidate former President Donald Trump. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Voting is set to begin Monday night in icy Iowa as former President Donald Trump eyes a victory that would send a resounding message that neither life-threatening cold nor life-changing legal trouble can slow his march toward the Republican Party’s 2024 nomination.

The Iowa caucuses, which are the opening contest in the months-long Republican presidential primary process, begin at 8 p.m. EST. Caucus participants will gather inside more than 1,500 schools, churches and community centers to debate their options, in some cases for hours, before casting secret ballots.

While Trump projects confidence, his onetime chief rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, is fighting for his political survival in a make-or-break race for second place. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, the only woman in the race, stands in DeSantis’ way. The two have competed aggressively in recent weeks to emerge as the clear alternative to the former president, who has alienated many Americans and could end up being a convicted felon by year’s end.

“I absolutely love a lot of the things (Trump) did, but his personality is just kind of getting in his way,” said Hans Rudin, a 49-year-old community college adviser from Council Bluffs, Iowa. He said he supported Trump in the past two elections, but will caucus for DeSantis on Monday.

Polls suggest Trump enters the day with a massive lead in Iowa as Haley and DeSantis duel for a distant second. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson are also on the ballot, as is former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who suspended his campaign last week.

With the coldest temperatures in caucus history expected and dangerous travel conditions in virtually every corner of the rural state, the campaigns are bracing for a low-turnout contest that will test the strength of their support and their organizational muscle. The final result will serve as a powerful signal for the rest of the nomination fight to determine who will face Democratic President Joe Biden in the November general election.

After Iowa, the Republican primary shifts to New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina over the coming weeks before moving into the rest of the country this spring. The ultimate nominee won’t be confirmed until the party’s national convention in July, but with big wins in the opening contests, Trump will be difficult to stop.

Trump’s political strength heading into the Iowa caucuses, which come 426 days after he launched his 2024 campaign, tells a remarkable story of a Republican Party unwilling or unable to move on from him. He lost to Biden in 2020 after fueling near-constant chaos while in the White House, culminating with his supporters carrying out a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. In total, he faces 91 felony charges across four criminal cases, including two indictments for his efforts to overturn the election and a third indictment for keeping classified documents in his Florida home.

In recent weeks, Trump has increasingly echoed authoritarian leaders and framed his campaign as one of retribution. He has spoken openly about using the power of government to pursue his political enemies. He has repeatedly harnessed rhetoric once used by Adolf Hitler to argue that immigrants entering the U.S. illegally are “poisoning the blood of our country. And he recently shared a word cloud last week to his social media account highlighting words like “revenge,” “power” and “dictatorship.”

Republican voters have been undeterred.

“Trump is a Christian. He’s trustworthy. He believes in America. And he believes in freedom,” said 71-year-old Kathy DeAngelo, a retired hospital administrative employee waiting in subzero weather to see Trump on Sunday. “He’s the only one.”

The final Des Moines Register/NBC News poll before the caucuses found Trump maintaining a formidable lead, supported by nearly half of likely caucusgoers, compared with 20% for Haley and 16% for DeSantis. Haley, the former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor, and DeSantis, the Florida governor, remain locked in a close battle for second. Trump is also viewed more favorably than the other top contenders by likely caucusgoers, at 69% compared with 58% for DeSantis and just 48% for Haley.

On the eve of the caucuses, Trump predicted he would set a modern-day record for an Iowa Republican caucus with a margin-of-victory exceeding the nearly 13 percentage points that Bob Dole earned in 1988. He also sought to downplay expectations that he would earn as much as 50% of the total vote.

Whether he hits that number or not, his critics note that roughly half of the state’s Republican voters will likely vote for someone not named Trump.

“Somebody won by 12 points and that was like a record. Well, we should do that,” Trump said Sunday during an appearance at a Des Moines hotel. “If we don’t do that, let ‘em criticize us, right? But let’s see if we can get to 50%.“

“Brave the weather and go out and save America,” he later added.

The temperature in parts of Iowa on Monday could dip as low as negative 14 degrees Fahrenheit (negative 26 degrees Celsius) while snow drifts from Friday’s blizzard still make travel hazardous across the rural state where unpaved roads are common.

Forecasters warned that “dangerously cold wind chills” as low as 45 degrees below zero Fahrenheit were possible through noon Tuesday. The conditions, according to the National Weather Service, could lead to “frost bite and hypothermia in a matter of minutes if not properly dressed for the conditions.”

Over the weekend, signs positioned on key roadways warned motorists in large flashing orange letters: “TRAVEL NOT ADVISED.”

And the winter weather, intimidating even for Iowa, will make an already unrepresentative process even less representative.

Many elderly Iowans, who are the backbone of the caucus, are wondering how they will make it to their sites. And only a tiny portion of the participants will be voters of color, given Iowa’s overwhelmingly white population, a fact that helped convince Democrats to shift their opening primary contest to South Carolina this year.

Iowa’s caucuses are also playing out on Martin Luther King Day, which is a federal holiday.

Last month, some presidential campaigns were expecting close to 200,000 Republican voters to participate in the caucus. On the eve of the contest, many now wonder whether the 2024 turnout will exceed the 118,411 Republicans who showed up in 2012.

Still, each of the campaigns is claiming a powerful get-out-the-vote operation that will ensure their supporters show up.

Haley rallied a room packed with Iowans and out-of-state volunteers on Sunday in Ames, drawing frequent cheers from the pink necklace and boa-clad “Women for Nikki.”

The 51-year-old former South Carolina governor repeated her frequent call for GOP voters to elect her as a “new generational leader that leaves the negativity and the baggage behind and focuses on the solutions of the future.”

Nearly 200 miles away in Dubuque, DeSantis dismissed questions about his position in the polls as he courted voters.

“I like being underestimated. I like being the underdog,” the Florida governor said. “I think that that’s better.”

Meanwhile, not all voters were excited about their options.

Jake Hutzell, 28, hasn’t participated in a caucus before, and he isn’t sure that he will Monday, either. He follows politics, but he said he’s part of a generation that’s skeptical any of it makes a difference.

“There’s never been anyone I feel strongly about,” the Dubuque resident said. “If I’m going to throw my name behind who I think should be the president, I would like to very feel very strongly about it.”

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AP

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Are Indonesias Presidential Hopefuls Ganjar and Anies Ganging Up on Prabowo?

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Are Indonesias Presidential Hopefuls Ganjar and Anies Ganging Up on Prabowo?
Presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo is a former governor of Central Java province. ANTARA/Aditya Pradana Putra

Pollsters have put Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto as the strongest contender for Indonesia’s upcoming election on Feb 14, with an electability of more than 40 per cent.

Indonesian presidential frontrunner Prabowo Subianto was jointly attacked by his two opponents again in another televised election debate, in a tag-team move that has appeared to lower the defence minister’s winning chances.

But analysts are split on whether the seemingly uncoordinated offensive by ex-Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan and former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo would pay off for them in shaving Prabowo’s lead in time for the Feb 14 presidential election, or if it might even backfire.

In the third of a five-debate series, the candidates were grilled on Sunday night (Jan 7) on the topics of defence, security, international relations and geopolitics.

It’s familiar territory for Prabowo, 72, who has been Indonesia’s defence minister for almost five years, though that did not stop his two rivals from criticising his performance at the ministry, such as accusing him of mismanaging defence procurement.

Prabowo was notably upset and said at a press conference after the debate that his rivals were not citing accurate data.

“I was a little disappointed with the quality (of the debate), especially the narratives conveyed by the other candidates. In my opinion, first of all, their data is wrong,” said a visibly sullen-looking candidate.

“Secondly, (they want to) use the issues of defence to score political points, which, in my opinion, is not permissible for statesmen.”

Political analyst Ujang Komarudin from the University of Al Azhar Indonesia said Prabowo is being attacked because he is the frontrunner.

“Those were hard and continuous attacks because Prabowo is considered a common enemy given his high electability.

“All surveys have put Prabowo on the first spot and far ahead of the electability of Anies and Ganjar. Therefore, to bring down Prabowo, he must be attacked during the debate.”

On Saturday, pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia, for example, released its latest survey. It shows that Prabowo’s electability is 46.9 per cent.

Anies came in second with 23.2 per cent, while Ganjar secured the last spot with 22.2 per cent.

However, a survey by the daily newspaper Kompas after Sunday’s debate showed that 79.7 per cent of its 210 respondents nationwide were satisfied with Ganjar’s performance.

A total of 71.4 per cent were satisfied with Anies’ performance, while only 48.9 per cent were satisfied with Prabowo’s performance.

NOT THE FIRST ATTACK

During the first debate on Dec 12 which covered areas in law, human rights, eradication of corruption, governance, improving public service, strengthening democracy, tackling disinformation, and managing civic harmony, Anies also focused his criticisms on Prabowo while Ganjar was more reserved.

The second debate was for the vice presidential candidates – Muhaimin Iskandar, who is teaming up with Anies, Gibran Rakabuming Raka who is Prabowo’s running mate and Mahfud MD who is the vice presidential candidate of Ganjar.

The third debate was for the presidential candidates again, and Anies and Ganjar took aim at Prabowo’s military procurement strategy as defence minister.

Anies criticised Prabowo, who is vying for the presidency for the third time in a row, for procuring billions of dollars for weaponry, while many Indonesian military personnel do not own a house.

He even went beyond by highlighting Prabowo’s personal wealth.

“While half of our soldiers do not have official residences, its minister owns 340,000 ha of land,” said Anies, claiming to cite the data President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, used during the 2019 presidential debate when the latter ran against Prabowo.

The defence minister denied Anies’ claim, but the latter continued his criticism of Prabowo on another front.

During Prabowo’s tenure, the government introduced a programme called food estate, which is coordinated by the defence ministry and aimed to establish large-scale agricultural plantations in several parts of Indonesia to ensure food security nationwide.

Depending on the location of the plantation, the crops were supposed to be rice, cassava and potato.

But Anies claimed the defence ministry’s food estate is a failed project because cassavas can barely grow on the hundreds of hectares of land procured for the scheme.

Meanwhile, Ganjar highlighted the defence ministry’s budget, saying it should account for at least 2 per cent of the gross domestic product.

However, he noted it only accounts for 0.7 per cent, and that Prabowo should have pushed for a bigger budget that included soldiers’ welfare.

“Your planning is too reckless, and you are not serious about managing the domestic defence industry,” said Ganjar. “I am doubtful about how you manage the defence budget in Indonesia.”

Both Anies and Ganjar also criticised Prabowo’s move in the past few years, where he has bought used military equipment, claiming it was a waste of money.

However, Prabowo said it is not an issue. “When it comes to military equipment, it is not about whether it’s not new or used. But it is about the age (of the equipment).”

For example, if it is a plane, it is the flying hours, he said. Prabowo claimed the flying hours of the equipment he procured are still good.

At one point, Anies and Ganjar seemed even to be targeting Prabowo jointly.

When it was Anies’ turn to ask Ganjar a question, he asked him how he would rate the performance of the defence ministry.

Ganjar gave a five out of 10, which Anies said is too good.

“It is 11 out of 100,” said Anies, whose laughter prompted the audience to follow suit.

THE FRONTRUNNER IS THE COMMON ENEMY

Analysts spoke to said the attacks by Anies and Ganjar will continue until the last debate involving the presidential candidates set to take place on Feb 4.

“I think this pattern (of attacking other candidates) will continue to be repeated to expose the rivals’ weaknesses as part of efforts to seek public support, especially swing voters,” said Wasisto Rahajo Jati, a political expert with the Indonesian National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN).

However, political analyst Ray Rangkuti from the Jakarta-based think tank Lingkar Madani told, that Anies and Ganjar were just taking advantage of the fact that Prabowo is the current defence minister.

“Because Prabowo’s argument so far has always been it is not necessary to talk much (to the public and media). What is important is to work, work, work,” said Rangkuti.

“But when the two other candidates asked about his work, he couldn’t explain himself.”

While there is a pattern that Prabowo is being attacked by the other two, Wasisto from BRIN is doubtful about its effectiveness.

“I think it depends on the public perception because, basically, the attack is part of an effort to attract the public’s attention towards the capabilities and problem-solving abilities of each presidential candidate,” he told.

Ujang from the University of Al Azhar Indonesia thinks the attacks on Prabowo have left the debate with no winner.

“Regarding the attacks, no one won the debate because the method was not elegant. An elegant way is a soft way, a good way, a way that is pleasant for people to hear and see,” he said, adding that the offensive against Prabowo could even backfire for Anies and Ganjar.

Ujang cited, for example, how Ganjar’s electability according to opinion polls has decreased each time he and his party PDI-P criticise Prabowo.

However, Rangkuti from Lingkar Madani believes Anies and Ganjar should continue attacking Prabowo if they want to win as it would show their stance.

“For Anies, there is no other way because his stance is different (from Prabowo’s). Therefore, he needs to show that. In comparison, Ganjar’s stance is more moderate,” he said.

Prabowo is campaigning to continue Jokowi’s programme, while Anies wants a change. On the other hand, Ganjar wants to continue what he believes are good programmes under Jokowi while introducing his own schemes.

Rangkuti believed Prabowo was probably also eager to counter-attack his opponents during the debate but did not have much material to do so since the former governors have never been involved in defence matters.

Citing the Kompas post-debate survey showing how Prabowo was deemed to have fared poorest, Rangkuti also thinks attacking the defence minister would not hurt Anies and Ganjar.

“The election debate can be very influential because, according to surveys, almost 30 per cent of potential voters are still undecided,” the analyst added.

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CNA

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Indonesia Presidential Frontrunner Under Fire as Rivals Attack Defence Plans

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Indonesia Presidential Frontrunner Under Fire as Rivals Attack Defence Plans
Indonesia's Defence Minister and presidential candidate, Prabowo Subianto speaks during a televised debate with his opponents Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Baswedan, at the Istora Senayan stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 7, 2024. REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana

Indonesian presidential frontrunner Prabowo Subianto suffered a barrage of attacks in a heated election debate on Sunday, with his two opponents taking aim at his military procurement strategy as defence minister, calling him reckless and wasteful.

Third-time candidate Prabowo, a former special forces commander, has held a strong lead in opinion polls for the Feb. 14 election, but his military modernisation drive drew flak in a second televised face-off focused on security and geopolitics.

Former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan denounced Prabowo’s plans to procure used military equipment, including a fleet of Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets from Qatar, and accused his defence ministry of failing to protect itself from hackers who last year threatened to leak confidential information.

“Ironically, defence ministry was hacked,” Anies said. “The 700 trillion rupiah ($45.13 billion) budget cannot be used to contain it. Instead, it is used to buy second-hand military equipment.”

Dressed for the debate in an air force-style bomber jacket, the ruling party’s candidate Ganjar Pranowo said the jets deal, which the government has delayed over budget issues, was “reckless planning”.

Southeast Asia’s biggest economy has for the past decade lagged regional peers in defence spending as a share of gross domestic product.

Prabowo justified the strategy to buy used hardware as essential in modernising the armed forces, adding the 15-year-old jets had a 25 to 30 year lifespan.

“The narrative about using used equipment, I think, is misleading. The important thing is flying hours,” he said.

“In reality we need equipment to cover the current gap,” he said, adding new jets take longer to arrive and not all defence confidential data can be divulged to the public.

President Joko Widodo on Monday was quoted by local media as saying that the data is confidential “because it’s related to the nation’s big strategy,” adding that people were disappointed by the personal attacks launched in the debate.

The president did not mention who launched such attacks.

Most polls have Anies neck-and-neck with Ganjar, though far adrift of leading candidate Prabowo, who has picked as running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the son of the popular two-term President Joko Widodo.

Anies said that choice showed Prabowo had “compromised ethics standards”, after Gibran was only beneficiary of an acrimonious court ruling that changed eligibility rules just days from election registration.

The candidates were also asked how they would address long-running disputes over the South China Sea.

Prabowo said Indonesia needed better technology to defend its territory, while Anies said it should become a dominant leader in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to ensure a common position.

Ganjar proposed a review of the bloc’s much-criticised decision making approach and said a 2002 agreement between China and ASEAN countries to avoid maritime disputes had failed.

“We can take the initiative through temporary agreements to avoid higher risks,” Ganjar said, without elaborating.

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REUTERS

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Indonesia’s Presidential Hopefuls Face Off in Debate

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Indonesia’s Presidential Hopefuls Face Off in Debate
Indonesia's Defence Minister and presidential candidate, Prabowo Subianto speaks during a televised debate with his opponents Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Baswedan, at the Istora Senayan stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 7, 2024. FILE/Telegraf

Indonesia’s presidential candidates held a second debate on Sunday, where they discussed defense, geopolitics, and diplomacy.

Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, former Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, and former Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan will compete in a Feb. 14 election to lead the world’s largest archipelagic nation.

Nearly 205 million people are eligible to cast their ballots in the vote, aiming to determine the successor of President Joko Widodo after his 10-year tenure.

Frontrunner Subianto stated that if elected, he would strive to maintain positive relationships with all global powers in line with Indonesia’s “non-aligned” foreign policy.

“With good relations with all powers, we can secure our national interests,” Subianto said in the debate broadcasted across Indonesian television screens. “A thousand friends are too few, one adversary is one too many. We will pursue a good neighbor policy.”

The former special forces general emphasized the importance of bolstering military power to defend independence as he expressed concern about situations akin to the challenging circumstances faced by Gaza during the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Indonesia is a staunch supporter of Palestinian independence. It has called for a resolution to the conflict based on internationally agreed parameters set by the United Nations, which include a two-state solution.

Pranowo outlined a proposal for a temporary agreement on the disputed South China Sea, underlining Indonesia’s status as a non-claimant in the region.

He said the temporary agreement was necessary in light of China’s ongoing military modernization, expected to be finalized by 2027.

“[The resolution efforts] have been more than 20 years, and there has been no progress,” he said.

He also pitched the need to strengthen patrols by the Indonesian navy.

“We need floating tankers that can be used by our Navy to patrol. This makes logistics very cost-effective,” he said.

Baswedan raised the issue of non-traditional threats such as a rise in hacking incidents, pledging the establishment of a cyberdefense structure.

“The key doesn’t solely lie in the technology itself. The essence lies in the comprehensive involvement of everyone,” he said.

He also said that he would make Indonesia a decisive leader in the global setting, not “merely a spectator,” through its soft power such as the arts.

“Through these efforts, we aim to make Indonesia both a gracious host in its own land and a charming guest in other countries,” he added.

Subianto is ahead of his rivals in opinion polls since choosing Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the president’s eldest son, as his vicepresidential candidate.

Pranowo is far behind in second place.

Recent surveys suggest that Baswedan, in third place, might have a chance to beat Pranowo and be in the second-round runoff vote.

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AFP

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