Tagged: Congress

Who will vote for the No Federal Contracts for Corporate Deserters Act?

Corporations that move their tax domiciles abroad would be denied federal contracts under legislation offered on Tuesday by Democrats in the U.S. Congress, targeting tax-driven deals known as inversions.

With November’s congressional elections approaching, Democrats are blasting away at inversions. Few U.S. companies have done such deals, but as they become more common, they are attracting more negative publicity…

“Those dodging their fair share of taxes should not be rewarded with taxpayer-funded government contracts,” said Democratic Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas in a statement on the bill made with three other senior Democrats…

An inversion is a deal in which a U.S. corporation buys or sets up a foreign company, then moves its tax domicile into that foreign company and its home country, while leaving core business operations in the United States. Doing such a deal ends U.S. taxation of the company’s foreign profits and makes it easier for the company to take other tax-cutting steps…

The Democrats’ legislation would bar federal government contracts from going to businesses that incorporate overseas, that are majority-owned by the shareholders of the original U.S. corporation and that lack substantial business opportunities in the foreign country in which they are reincorporating.

Over the past 32 years, 52 U.S. corporations have completed inversions, a nickname that refers to the idea of turning the company upside down so a small, offshore unit becomes the head and larger, U.S. operations become the body.

Of those 52 deals, 19 have come since 2009, while 10 more are being finalized and many others are said to be in the works. For instance, Illinois-based drugstore chain Walgreen is considering whether to invert to Switzerland.

Medical technology group Medtronic of Minnesota, and drug maker AbbVie, also of Illinois, are in the midst of deals to invert to Ireland.

Screw ‘em to the wall, I say. While every copout talking head on TV wanders off into rationales and blather about tax code reform, that ain’t about to happen until and unless Republicans are finally shoved into a little corner as a minority party representing only the most reactionary business interests and theocrats.

Meanwhile – act like an adult is in charge of Congress and penalize runaway tax cheats.

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The costs of NSA snooping are greater than just the loss of personal privacy

There is no doubt the integrity of our communications and the privacy of our online activities have been the biggest casualty of the NSA’s unfettered surveillance of our digital lives. But the ongoing revelations of government eavesdropping has had a profound impact on the economy, the security of the internet and the credibility of the U.S. government’s leadership when it comes to online governance.

These are among the many serious costs and consequences the NSA and those who sanctioned its activities—including the White House, the Justice Department and lawmakers like Sen. Dianne Feinstein—apparently have not considered, or acknowledged, according to a report by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute…

The Foundation’s report, released today, outlines some of the collateral damage of NSA surveillance in several areas, including:

Economic losses to US businesses due to lost sales and declining customer trust.

Deterioration of Cybersecurity

Undermining U.S. Support for Internet Freedom

“As the birthplace for so many of these technologies, including the internet itself, we have a responsibility to see them used for good,” then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a 2010 speech launching a campaign in support of internet freedom. But while “the US government promotes free expression abroad and aims to prevent repressive governments from monitoring and censoring their citizens,” the New American report notes, it is “simultaneously supporting domestic laws that authorize surveillance and bulk data collection.” The widespread collection of data, which has a chilling effect on freedom of expression, is precisely the kind of activity for which the U.S. condemns other countries…

The report makes a number of recommendations to address the problems the NSA’s spying has created. These include strengthening privacy protections for Americans and non-Americans, developing clear policies about whether and under what legal standards it is permissible for the government to secretly install malware on a computer or network, and working to restore trust encryption systems and standards.

RTFA for the details, cause and effect, intelligent response to corruption.

All make good sense. All reflect standards advocated for generations by United States constitutionalists and progressives. All get lip-service from the two political parties we’re allowed – and secretly, privately, subverted by elected representatives from both.

Yes, there are degrees of difference. The truly fascist-minded generally gravitate to the Republican Party,.e.g., Dick Cheney or Ted Cruz. The language of liberty is so thoroughly ingrained in our culture they adopt the simple-minded convention that military security and secret police are defining characteristics of the liberties they blather about.

Leaving the rest of us the task of getting Big Brother off our backs by the few legitimate means we can access. Like voting for the lesser of two evils over and over again.

Thanks, Mike

High Time to repeal Prohibition, again!

NY TIMES Editorial

It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws…

The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.

There is honest debate among scientists about the health effects of marijuana, but we believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco. Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults. Claims that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs are as fanciful as the “Reefer Madness” images of murder, rape and suicide…

We recognize that this Congress is as unlikely to take action on marijuana as it has been on other big issues. But it is long past time to repeal this version of Prohibition.

Nice to see someone as safe and stodgy as the NY TIMES get off their rusty-dusty on questions about marijuana. And it’s worth a smile reading their comment about no expectations of this Congress doing anything about legalization – since they’re incapable of addressing any other national priorities either.

A worthwhile sign of the times we live in – a time when citizens in general are marching light-years ahead of politicians in Congress and even local and state politicians can be pushed into voting for somewhat sensible regulation of America’s favorite weed.

Hypocrite-of-the-week screams about unvaccinated migrants – opposes mandatory vaccination


Har!

Last week, Rep. Phil Gingrey wrote a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with a dire warning: Some of the child refugees streaming across the southern border into the United States might carry deadly diseases. “Reports of illegal immigrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning,” Gingrey wrote. “Many of the children who are coming across the border also lack basic vaccinations such as those to prevent chicken pox or measles.”

Gingrey’s analysis carried an aura of credibility among conservatives, because, as Judicial Watch noted, the congressman is “also [a] medical doctor.” But his two-page letter is filled with false charges—there’s no evidence that migrants carry Ebola or that they’re less likely to be vaccinated—from an inconvenient messenger: The congressman has himself pushed legislation to discourage some kinds of mandatory vaccinations in the United States.

According to the World Health Organization, Ebola virus has only ever affected humans in sub-Saharan Africa. (It has been found in China and the Philippines, but has never caused an illness, let alone a fatality)…Gingrey’s misdiagnoses aren’t confined to Ebola. As the Texas Observer points out, when it comes to measles, children in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are more likely to be vaccinated than children in the United States. None of those countries have recorded an outbreak of measles in 24 years. Kids in Marin County are more at risk.

And in 2007, he wrote an amendment that would allow parents to block their children from receiving HPV vaccines, which are designed to combat cervical cancer.

Nothing new about today’s Republicans being as ethically corrupt as they are economically ignorant, socially and politically bigoted. Some – obviously including Congress-slime Gingrey – ignore conflicts between their record and their lies.

Bill in Congress to guarantee right to contraception – who will try to stop it?

GOP-war-against-women

Democrats in Congress said Tuesday that they had developed legislation to override the Supreme Court decision on contraceptives. The bill would ensure that women have access to insurance coverage for birth control even if they work for businesses that have religious objections.

The bill, put together in consultation with the Obama administration, would require for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby Stores to provide and pay for contraceptive coverage, along with other preventive health services, under the Affordable Care Act.

The measure could be on the Senate floor as early as next week, Senate Democrats said. House Democrats are developing a companion bill, but it faces long odds in the House, which is controlled by Republicans. Speaker John A. Boehner described the Hobby Lobby decision last week as “a victory for religious freedom.”

Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, who led efforts by Senate Democrats to respond to the ruling, said: “Your health care decisions are not your boss’s business. Since the Supreme Court decided it will not protect women’s access to health care, I will.”

Ms. Murray wrote her proposal with Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado.

Ms. Murray’s bill criticizes the court’s majority opinion and declares that “employers may not discriminate against their female employees” in the coverage of preventive health services.

To this end, it says that an employer “shall not deny coverage of a specific health care item or service” where coverage is required under any provision of federal law. This requirement, it says, shall apply to employers notwithstanding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Someday the role our original constitution played in leading separation of church and state throughout the world will once again be recognized back where it started. Right here in the Heart of the Free World.

More or less, eh?

Everyone but complete idjits now supports background checks for all gun buyers

More than nine out of 10 U.S. voters support background checks for gun buyers and almost as many say the mentally ill should be barred from buying guns.

A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday found that gun owners are almost as likely as the general public to support background checks. And 89 percent of Republicans agree on the issue, only 3 percentage points lower than Democrats.

But only 50 percent said the country needs stricter laws to regulate guns, while 47 percent said they oppose such laws.

Which is a non sequitur.

“Americans are all in on stricter background checks on gun buyers and on keeping weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill,” said Tim Malloy, the Quinnipiac University Poll’s assistant director. “But when it comes to ‘stricter gun control,’ three words which prompt a negative reflex, almost half of those surveyed say ‘hands off.'”

After Adam Lanza killed his mother and 20 students and six teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and then took his own life, there were calls for stricter gun regulations. But the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups have lobbied successfully against new laws.

Lobbying – to describe what the NRA does – is a farce. The word is “threaten”. Money changes hands to cajole what faint conscience may exist in Congress. But, when the only question is “How high should I jump, boss?” – we’re only discussing athletic ability as a measure of cowardice.

Like civil rights and other questions requiring backbone, it will take a mighty grassroots movement to nudge most of our elected officials into an upright position.

BTW, the Quinnipiac poll is battling the Rasmussen poll for the position as cheapskate Republican poll – when they can’t afford Gallup. The tell on that is clear enough if you wander back to their numbers for Romney. So what? Even when conservative polls support sensible regulation of access to guns, the nutball fringe and their industry pimps in the NRA still scare Congress enough to stonewall action.

Inequality is not inevitable

An insidious trend has developed over this past third of a century. A country that experienced shared growth after World War II began to tear apart, so much so that when the Great Recession hit in late 2007, one could no longer ignore the fissures that had come to define the American economic landscape. How did this “shining city on a hill” become the advanced country with the greatest level of inequality?

One stream of the extraordinary discussion set in motion by Thomas Piketty’s timely, important book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” has settled on the idea that violent extremes of wealth and income are inherent to capitalism. In this scheme, we should view the decades after World War II — a period of rapidly falling inequality — as an aberration.

This is actually a superficial reading of Mr. Piketty’s work, which provides an institutional context for understanding the deepening of inequality over time. Unfortunately, that part of his analysis received somewhat less attention than the more fatalistic-seeming aspects…

…The dynamics of the imperial capitalism of the 19th century needn’t apply in the democracies of the 21st. We don’t need to have this much inequality in America.

Our current brand of capitalism is an ersatz capitalism. For proof of this go back to our response to the Great Recession, where we socialized losses, even as we privatized gains. Perfect competition should drive profits to zero, at least theoretically, but we have monopolies and oligopolies making persistently high profits. C.E.O.s enjoy incomes that are on average 295 times that of the typical worker, a much higher ratio than in the past, without any evidence of a proportionate increase in productivity.

If it is not the inexorable laws of economics that have led to America’s great divide, what is it? The straightforward answer: our policies and our politics. People get tired of hearing about Scandinavian success stories, but the fact of the matter is that Sweden, Finland and Norway have all succeeded in having about as much or faster growth in per capita incomes than the United States and with far greater equality…

Ideology and interests combined nefariously…Corporate interests argued for getting rid of regulations, even when those regulations had done so much to protect and improve our environment, our safety, our health and the economy itself.

But this ideology was hypocritical. The bankers, among the strongest advocates of laissez-faire economics, were only too willing to accept hundreds of billions of dollars from the government in the bailouts that have been a recurring feature of the global economy since the beginning of the Thatcher-Reagan era of “free” markets and deregulation…

The American political system is overrun by money. Economic inequality translates into political inequality, and political inequality yields increasing economic inequality. In fact, as he recognizes, Mr. Piketty’s argument rests on the ability of wealth-holders to keep their after-tax rate of return high relative to economic growth. How do they do this? By designing the rules of the game to ensure this outcome; that is, through politics…

We have located the underlying source of the problem: political inequities and policies that have commodified and corrupted our democracy. It is only engaged citizens who can fight to restore a fairer America, and they can do so only if they understand the depths and dimensions of the challenge. It is not too late to restore our position in the world and recapture our sense of who we are as a nation. Widening and deepening inequality is not driven by immutable economic laws, but by laws we have written ourselves.

Our corrupt Congress hasn’t happened by accident, you know. The design is neither new nor patented. But, the only correction – the historic cure remains unchanged. Throw the bums out of office.

That doesn’t mean replacing them with a new crop of self-seeking liars – whether they call themselves neo-conservatives, libertarians or tea party patriots. People who care not for the welfare of individuals care equally less for the welfare of this whole nation. The canary in the coal mine is still bigotry and hatred. If politicians can’t be brought to care for the civil rights of all Americans then they don’t deserve to represent any Americans.

Are big box garden centers killing bees?


Click to enlarge

Even as they try to help the bees, people may inadvertently poison them by planting pesticide-laden plants purchased from big-box garden centers, suggests a new report.

I’m not impressed with the “research” at the heart of this report. 99% of it may as well be copied from research on neonicotinoids which is admirable, convincing – and doesn’t have anything to do with the claim of half the bee-friendly plants sold at three major chains in the United States and Canada having neonicotinoid residues.

The three chains add up to almost 8500 stores in the United States and Canada. I read the 2013 report examining 3 regions – no count on the actual number of stores – and the 2014 report examining 18 regions – no count on the actual number of stores. If each of the 71 samples in the latter came from a different store than that is a check on less than 1/100th of a percent of the stores in question. The article reads like 18 stores provided samples. That is a check on about 2/1000th of a percent of the stores in question.

The relevant question seems it should be “who are the wholesale growers selling to these chains?” Then, a study could be made of their pesticide practices. Are there 20, 200, 2000 vendors supplying the bulk of product to the big box chain stores?

Sweeping generalities need more data to justify a campaign against the 3 chains. And all their peers.

More than half of ostensibly bee-friendly plants sampled at 18 Home Depot, Lowe’s and Walmart garden centers in the U.S. and Canada contained high levels of neonicotinoids, which are considered highly toxic to bees, butterflies and other insect pollinators.

Even when they don’t kill pollinators outright, neonicotinoids can impair their immune systems and sense of navigation, potentially turning gardens and backyards into flowery traps…

The report…by the Pesticide Research Institute and Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, is one of the most comprehensive investigations yet of an often-overlooked source of neonicotinoids in the environment: gardens and the built landscape…

The researchers purchased 71 bee-friendly plants—including daisies, lavender, marigolds, asters and primrose—at 18 Lowe’s, Walmart and Home Depot outlets across the United States and Canada. For more than half of the plants, the researchers measured neonicotinoid residues in the flowers at levels between 2 and 748 parts per billion.

According to ecotoxicologist Vera Krischik of the University of Minnesota, who was not involved in the study but reviewed it in detail, the data is solid and troubling. A dose of 192 parts per billion is enough to kill a honeybee, she says, and dozens of studies have found impairments in bee navigation, memory and foraging ability at between 4 and 30 parts per billion…

The neonicotinoid levels measured in the report far exceed what’s typically found in agricultural settings, but are in keeping with manufacturer-recommended doses for garden and landscapes…

Environmentalists are now pushing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to immediately review how neonicotinoids are used, and Congress is considering the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, which would halt both agricultural and landscape neonicotinoid use until the EPA’s review is completed.

I’d suggest that concerned home gardeners do what I did as soon as Mike suggested this article to me. I sent an email off to the wholesale grower used by the three big box garden centers here in Santa Fe. That’s Bonnie’s Plants in Alabama.

But, even before receiving an answer, I searched gardening groups around the Web as soon as I realized this was an expansion of the study from a year ago. Sure enough, I found a number of concerned folks who asked about Bonnie’s Plants last September right after the first press release. Like here in Santa Fe, Bonnie’s was the supplier to local clusters of Big Box garden centers in their towns.

The reply is reassuring. Bonnie’s says they use a proprietary spray which is FDA-approved [I know, I know!] and dissipates within 7 days – in their greenhouses. They specifically note they DO NOT use neonicotinoids.

Wherever you buy your bedding plants, the good stuff for your kitchen garden – ask where they get their plants. Ask if neonicotinoids are used. The bees will thank you.

Thoughtful, informed direct action, including bans on neonicotinoids a la the EU, will give us a check on a likely cause. A hissy-fit based on a tiny sample is not useful.

Thanks, Mike

7 percent of people approve of Congress

Gallup released a new poll last Thursday revealing that only seven percent of Americans have any real confidence in Congress. It’s an historic low, and probably one that 93 percent of Americans think is still higher than it should be.

But, then, seven percent of Americans think all sorts of things. Seven percent is, by definition, a minority of the country, but, even so, it’s an interesting group. We skimmed news reports to try and figure out what else set 7 percent of America apart.

RTFA for all the comparisons.

Memorable? Well, 7% of Americans think the moon landings were faked.

Gaby Giffords rallies women on gun sense

gabrielle-giffords

Shooting victim and former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords sought on Wednesday to rally women behind her push for stricter U.S. gun laws.

Giffords spoke of the risks that women face from domestic violence and stalkers as she called for increased background checks for gun owners.

“Criminals who have guns, stalkers who have guns, abusers who have guns that make them violent are an issue – for mothers, for families, for me and you,” Giffords told a panel discussion held at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington. “Women can lead the way…”

Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, who appeared with her at the panel event, mentioned that the couple own guns themselves, but they back increased background checks to “keep guns out of the hands of those who will stalk and abuse it.”

In April 2013, a handful of Senate Democrats joined Republicans to block a bill that would have expanded background checks to online and gun-show sales just four months after a mass elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut brought gun control issues back to the public debate.

The National Rifle Association gun rights lobby group had warned lawmakers that the background checks would lead to blah, blah, blah, blah…

Gun violence against women has been in the news after a shooter in Isla Vista, California, killed himself and six others and wounded 13 near the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara in May. Shooter Elliot Rodger had emailed plans to several people beforehand, stating his intention to get revenge on women for rejecting him.

The Isla Vista dipshit is representative of the distorted personalities who can pick up a carfull of firearms and ammo at his favorite neighborhood gun shop easy as pie. I live in a state where even the simple process of registration hasn’t been implemented – regardless of how it might aid recovery of guns after theft, though it would aid police departments in establishing an ownership trail.

Then, the mediocre federal non-rules kick in – especially those exempting so-called gun shows from existing law. Another instance where our politicians demonstrate the leadership of someone trying above all else to avoid any responsibility – and our voters exhibit the understanding and courage of a slug seeking enlightenment in a salt mine.