Monthly Archives: January 2018

US Surpasses Cayman Islands to Become Second Largest Tax Haven on Earth

“This is not a ranking in which the U.S. wants to be number one or even number two. We have one of the strongest economies and one of the most secret. It’s a perfect recipe for attracting the proceeds of crime, corruption, and tax evasion.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 1-30-2018

The U.S. holds 22 percent of global offshore services, up from 14 percent in 2015. (Image: Offshore Shell Games)

Proving its role in the global race to the bottom on tax avoidance and  contributing to a multitude of abuses around the world, the United States is now second-largest tax haven on the planet, according to an updated international index.

The Tax Justice Network found that the U.S. has surpassed the Cayman Islands as the number-two place where corporations can easily stash their money to avoid tax liabilities. Switzerland retained its top place on the list. Continue reading

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Sanctions? What Sanctions?

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Donald Trump in the Oval Office the day after James Comey’s firing. Photo: YouTube,

In July of last year, Congress overwhelmingly passed a bill that put new sanctions on Russia. The support was as close to unanimous as you see in Congress these days; only three dissenting votes in the House and two in the Senate.

Facing sure backlash and a veto override if he either vetoed the bill or refused to sign (a pocket veto), President Donald Trump held off until the final day until signing the sanctions bill. Signed without the usual spectacle of a ceremony that the Toddler in Chief seems to thrive on, he called parts of the bill “clearly unconstitutional,” and went on to say they “displace the President’s exclusive constitutional authority to recognize foreign governments” while others exceed Congress’ authority by imposing time limits on the executive branch.

The Trump administration then raised the ire of Congress by missing the deadline for the first part of the sanctions to be put in effect. Which brings us to today’s deadline.

Today was to be the day that the Treasury Department was to begin imposing economic sanctions against people and businesses doing business with Russia’s intelligence and defense sectors. They were also supposed to provide a list of oligarchs maintaining close ties to Putin.

So what did the administration do? They said that they wouldn’t be imposing sanctions. “Sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent,” said a State Department official.

When Donald Trump became President, he took the oath of office:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Overriding Congress and unilaterally deciding not to enforce a sanctions bill that you yourself signed is not faithfully executing the office. It is not preserving, protecting or defending the Constitution. It’s the type of stunt you see in a third rate banana republic, and not in the United States – until now.

So, what happens next? Will Congress grow a spine and demand that he put sanctions in place? Will they finally admit to themselves that this overgrown toddler has no business being where he is? That every day he stays in office means further degradation of us as a nation? Will they finally figure that their Faustian compact isn’t worth the damage it does to the country? Or will they keep on making excuses for this wretched imitation of a human being?

 

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Striving for ‘Best Plutocracy Money Can Buy,’ Koch Brothers Plan to Dump $400M in 2018 Midterms

“This is why we need to overturn the terrible Citizens United Supreme Court decision and move to public funding of elections.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 1-28-2018

Photo: YouTube

Fresh off the passage of tax legislation that could net them over a billion dollars a year in additional profits, the oil moguls Charles and David Koch have now set their sights on the 2018 midterms, during which they are reportedly planning to spend around $400 million promoting right-wing candidates and priorities.

The news came as the Kochs and others within their sprawling network of deep-pocketed donors and politicians were preparing to gather for a secretive weekend conference in Indian Wells, California. Continue reading

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Leaked Trump Infrastructure Plan Ripped as Thinly-Veiled ‘Assault on the Environment’

“The memo reveals an infrastructure plan that is essentially a giveaway to corporations at the expense of the American people and our environment.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 1-27-2018

“The administration’s legislative outline for infrastructure sacrifices clean air, water, the expertise of career agency staff, and bedrock environmental laws,” concluded Theresa Pierno, president of the National Parks Conservation Association. (Photo: Mark Dixon/Flickr/cc)

Green groups reacted with alarm on Friday to a leaked Trump administration infrastructure draft that proposes a drastic rollback of environmental regulations in an attempt to expedite the construction of water-threatening oil pipelines, roads, bridges—and, of course, “the wall.”

The draft also includes a provision that would “expand the government’s ability to have private firms pay for the federal environmental reviews of their own projects” while also restricting the ability of federal agencies to “weigh in or block a project from going forward,” the Washington Post, which first obtained the leaked proposal, reports. Continue reading

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Not Even Orwell or Huxley Could Have Imagined ‘Totalitarian’ Threat Posed by Facebook and Google, Warns Soros

Billionaire investor says there is serious threat of tech giants and authoritarian states teaming up to “bring together nascent systems of corporate surveillance with an already developed system of state-sponsored surveillance.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 1-26-2018

“The power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies,” Soros said. (Photo: Wikimotive)

In addition to warning that U.S. President Donald Trump represents an immense “danger” to civilization, billionaire George Soros used the spotlight of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Thursday to urge the international community to take seriously the threats posed by Facebook and Google, which he said could ultimately spawn “a web of totalitarian control” if they are not reined in.

Particularly alarming, Soros said, is the prospect of Facebook and Google—which he scathingly deemed a “menace” to society—teaming up with “authoritarian states” to “bring together nascent systems of corporate surveillance with an already developed system of state-sponsored surveillance.” Continue reading

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Doomsday Clock Now ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’ as Trump Drives Up Nuclear and Climate Threats

“It’s always sobering to be reminded just how close humanity is to destroying itself with nuclear weapons.”

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 1-25-2018

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced on Thursday it has moved up the Doomsday Clock to two minutes to midnight. (Bulletin of Atomic Scientists/Facebook)

In response to rising nuclear tensions and concerns about inadequate action to address the climate crisis, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced Thursday the hands of the Doomsday Clock have been moved and it is now just two minutes midnight, a signal to the world that international scientists and policy experts are increasingly worried about the likeliness of global catastrophe.

“In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II,” said a statement from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Continue reading

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Is it time for a 21st-century version of ‘The Day After’?

Marsha Gordon, North Carolina State University

 

Screenshot from ‘The Day After’.

It’s beginning to feel like the 1980s all over again.

Already this year, we’ve seen Donald Trump tweeting provocative nuclear threats about North Korea. A terrifying (but false) incoming missile alert set Hawaiians on edge, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention planned (and then postponed) a nuclear attack preparedness session. The Pentagon has also proposed a policy of possible nuclear retaliation for cyberattacks.

As a teenager, I remember being horrified about the possibility of nuclear war. I watched daily news reports about the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and listened to music about “what might save us, me and you,” as Sting’s 1985 song “Russians” put it (the answer: “If the Russians love their children too”).

But I especially remember the television event of 1983: “The Day After,” a fictional, made-for-TV movie that imagined a nuclear attack on American soil. The debates and discussions the film spurred make me wonder if a similar sort of high-profile cultural event would serve the country well today.

The water cooler event of the decade

At my junior high school in Southern California, “The Day After” was what everyone was talking about leading up to (and following) the night it aired on ABC on Nov. 20, 1983.

By all measures, it was a major media event. An estimated 100 million viewers tuned in. The White House phone lines were jammed and ABC headquarters in New York received more than 1,000 calls about the movie during its East Coast broadcast.

“The Day After” imagines a scenario in which America’s policy of deterrence fails. It depicts a nuclear attack through the experiences of Midwesterners – doctors, students, children, the pregnant and the engaged – followed by an extended (and, though grim, fairly unrealistic) consideration of post-blast repercussions.

Leading up to the attack, there is quotidian normality, followed by localized shock at the terrifying sight of missiles being launched out of the ground from Kansas missile silos. Panicked anticipation of an incoming nuclear attack follows, replete with period novelties such as huge lines at pay phones.

Although dated and artless in many ways, the representation of the blast remains horrific, if only by virtue of what it forces us to consider: the fire, wind and chaos; the widespread damage and suffering; the desperate need for medical care; and the futile desire for order and assistance.

Society as the characters in the movie knew it – just a day before – was a thing of the past.

Political television

“The Day After” was controversial even before it aired, with critics like Tom Shales of The Washington Post deeming it “the most politicized entertainment program ever seen on television.” Reverend Jerry Falwell organized a boycott against the show’s advertisers, and Paul Newman and Meryl Streep both tried (unsuccessfully) to run anti-nuclear proliferation advocacy ads during the program.

In the text that scrolls at the end of the film, “The Day After” declares its intention to “inspire the nations of this earth, their people and leaders, to find the means to avert the fateful day” – to, in essence, scare some sense into anyone tuning in.

Pro- and anti-nuclear groups used the film as a rallying cry for their positions. An Oct. 4, 1983 LA Times article (“‘The Day After’ Creating a Stir”) detailed a “conservative counteroffensive” that attempted to “discredit the film and write it off as a media conspiracy against Ronald Reagan’s strong defense posture.” Reagan supporters also hoped to defuse potential public backlash against American nuclear missile proliferation in Europe.

After the film aired, two simultaneous events at the epicenter of the film’s setting, the University of Kansas, are telling. A Los Angeles Times article titled “‘The Day After’ Viewed Amid Debate, Fear” described how a candlelight vigil in support of nuclear disarmament was joined by counterdemonstrators who “urged peace through military strength.”

As The New York Times’s John Corry wrote, “Champions of the film say it forces us to think intelligently about the arms race; detractors say it preaches appeasement.”

A trigger for serious reflection

Outside of partisan lobbying, “The Day After” opened the door for public debate about nuclear weapons.

Immediately after the movie’s broadcast, Ted Koppel moderated a riveting discussion that featured a formidable group of pundits, including Henry Kissinger, Elie Wiesel, William F. Buckley, Carl Sagan and Robert McNamara. During this special edition of “Viewpoint,” Secretary of State George Shultz also appeared to tell audiences that “nuclear war is simply not acceptable.”

After the movie aired, Ted Koppel moderated a discussion that featured an all-star cast of public intellectuals and politicians.

 

The most prescient and horrifying questions from the audience and responses from the panelists on “Viewpoint” anticipate a future that’s eerily indicative of where we are today – a time of multi-state nuclear capability, where one unstable leader might trigger nuclear catastrophe.

In the weeks after the broadcast, schools and community centers around the country held forums during which people could discuss and debate the issues the film raised. Psychologists and communication scholars were also eager to study the movie’s impact on viewers, from how it influenced their attitudes about nuclear weapons, to its emotional consequences, to whether they felt empowered to try to influence America’s nuclear policies.

That was then, this is now

In the early 1980s, of course, it was the Soviet Union that posed the nuclear threat to America.

Today’s adversaries are more diffuse. The world’s nuclear situation is also much more volatile, with greater destructive potential than “The Day After” imagined.

A modern-day remake of “The Day After” would have to reckon with this bleaker scenario: a world in which there may be no day after.

The bellicose posturing that prevails in the White House today resonates, in some ways, with the public bickering between Soviet Head of State Yuri Andropov and Ronald Reagan in the months leading up to the broadcast of “The Day After.” After the film’s release, New York Times columnist James Reston hoped “the two nuclear giants” would “shut up for a few weeks” – that “some civility or decent manners” might prevail in the wake of public concern about the consequences imagined in ABC’s somber nuclear fable.

But as then-Secretary of State George Shultz pointed out in the Koppel interview, the aim of the Reagan administration was to never have to use nuclear weapons. It was to deter our nuclear adversary and to reduce our nuclear storehouse. Shultz’s words of assurance are a contrast to today’s rhetoric of nuclear one-upmanship that is totally removed from the devastating reality of nuclear war.

Trivializations of nuclear warfare on the order of “my button’s bigger than yours” undermine the grave reality of nuclear cataclysm. Such rhetoric is no longer the domain of farce, as in Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove,” in which erratic, incompetent leaders bumble their way into the apocalypse.

Perhaps some modernized version of “The Day After” could function as a wake-up call for those who have no real context for nuclear fear. If nothing else, “The Day After” got people talking seriously about the environmental, political and societal consequences of nuclear war.

The ConversationIt might also remind our current leaders – Trump, foremost among them – of what modern nuclear war might look like on American soil, perhaps inspiring a more measured stance than has prevailed thus far in 2018.

Marsha Gordon, Professor of Film Studies, North Carolina State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Trump’s HHS to enforce religious beliefs over health of US citizens

Screenshot: SNL/NBC

Ever since Donald Trump took office, we’ve been bombarded with news on a daily basis. News that would sink any other administration, or news that just makes you ask “WTF did I just read?”

But, while we’re being distracted by the outlandish behavior and statements of the Pretender in Chief, there’s usually something more sinister that slides somewhat under the radar. A case in point: this announcement published last Thursday on the HHS websiteContinue reading

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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Smacks Down GOP Gerrymandered Congressional Map

Decision hailed as ‘major victory for all Pennsylvanians’

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 1-22-2018

Thanks to the new decision, said the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, “The new maps could result in a delegation that more closely resembles the will of Pennsylvania’s voters.” (Photo: Penn State/Flickr/cc)

Pennsylvania’s high court on Monday ruled that the state’s gerrymandered congressional map “clearly, plainly, and palpably” violates the state constitution and ordered the state to draw up a new map to be used in the primary.

“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court today ruled in favor of voters choosing politicians rather than politicians choosing voters, and that is major victory for all Pennsylvanians,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, which filed an amicus brief in the case. “The court order will result in new maps in time for the 2018 election so that voters will not be forced to face a fourth congressional election under these unconstitutionally gerrymandered congressional districts.” Continue reading

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Why the US Wants 30,000 Troops on Syria’s Border With Turkey

By Darius Shahtahmasebi. Published 1-18-2018 by The Anti-Media

On Saturday, the Defense Post reported that the U.S.-led coalition in Syria was building a 30,000-member “border force,” made up predominantly of Kurdish and Arab Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as well as some unspecified new recruits.

“The Coalition is working jointly with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to establish and train the new Syrian Border Security Force (BSF). Currently, there are approximately 230 individuals training in the BSF’s inaugural class, with the goal of a final force size of approximately 30,000,” CJTF-OIR Public Affairs Officer Colonel Thomas F. Veale told Defense Post. Continue reading

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