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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

endcorpor(Photo: shannonkringen)

Okay, I will concede that the issue in the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) Hobby Lobby decision was the not the payment of taxes per se. Yes, SCOTUS granted the owners of Hobby Lobby the right to deny federally mandated coverage of some types of contraception. However, even the so-called "narrow" ruling broadened just the next day, according to Mother Jones

Less than a day after the United States Supreme Court issued its divisive ruling on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, it has already begun to toss aside the supposedly narrow interpretation of the decision. On Tuesday, the Supremes ordered lower courts to rehear any cases where companies had sought to deny coverage for any type of contraception, not just the specific types Hobby Lobby was opposed to.

Again, the issue was not technically a ruling on taxes, but it was a decision in favor of bestowing personhood on a corporation (a corporation must be considered "human" if it is to have religious beliefs) and allowing the "corporate person" to avoid paying for mandated federal health services.

That sets the precedent, it seems (with a grateful acknowledgement to Jon Oliver for the idea), that the Supreme Court should allow real persons to withhold a percentage of their income taxes that go toward wars and prisons, if they so wish. Of course, the federal courts have repeatedly rejected the right of individual taxpayers to withhold a portion of their taxes in objection to how the money would be spent. On the other hand, it just ruled that a business, which is not a person, doesn't have to spend money on a specific type of federally mandated health care.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

taxrates(Photo: mSeattle)

Salon recently posted an article entitled, "Conspiracy of the Plutocrats: Secrets of the Wealth-Inequality Explosion Revealed - Piketty Protégé Gabriel Zucman Explains How the World's Wealthiest Are Scamming Governments for Trillions."

Economist Gabriel Zucman contends that an estimated $7.6 trillion is illegally held by the 1% in illegal offshore amounts that are not subject to US taxes. This is because the IRS doesn't officially know about the existence of this stash of money, which far exceeds the US debt.

However, as BuzzFlash at Truthout detailed in one example yesterday, there are plenty of legal ways for the wealthy and corporations to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. The BuzzFlash commentary focused on the growing trend of US corporations moving their headquarters overseas to countries with lower tax rates, thus officially no longer being US companies.

Indeed, it is important to remember that the great redistribution of money from the middle class to the wealthy accelerated with Ronald Reagan's "trickle up" economics. As has been well documented, the oligarchical plan to transfer earnings and cash from the 99% to the 1% has been a success beyond the dreams of even those who devised it.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

corporatecontr (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)

Could Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairwoman Mary Jo White require the disclosure of big political contributions by corporations, particularly in the wake of the Citizens United decision?

Apparently the answer is "yes," according to a June 30 "Comment Is Free" column in The Guardian, by journalist Alexis Goldstein:

The disclosure of corporate political donations doesn't require Congress: the administration could simply propose new regulations under its existing authority. Unfortunately, despite having a Democratic chair – Mary Jo White – the Securities and Exchange Commission, which could mandate such disclosures, is either too intimidated (or too captured) to act.

Despite congressional shenanigans, blame for regulatory inaction on the issue sits squarely on the shoulders of the Democrat-led SEC. After adding a political disclosure rule to its 2013 agenda, the agency quietly dropped the rule for this year.

Goldstein writes that there are probably two primary reasons that the SEC is not forcing disclosure of anonymous corporate political campaign funds: 1) the Republicans are putting budgetary pressure on the SEC; and 2) it is more than possible that former top-tier corporate attorney Mary Jo White doesn't want to force accountability.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

walgreenArt Deco Walgreen Company Store in New Orleans. (Photo: Your Pal Dave)

As July 4 nears, you'll see the unusual onslaught of corporations trying to improve their brand image by associating themselves with patriotic advertising. It is important, however, to remember this June 29 Chicago Tribune headline when you see corporations go all red, white and blue: "Walgreen [Company] considers headquarters move: Is tax loophole unpatriotic?":

The nation's largest drugstore chain is considering a move that would allow it to significantly cut its tax bill and increase profits. But it's being painted by critics as un-American for looking to make money for shareholders through financial engineering at the expense of the communities that it grew up in. Walgreen is considering a so-called corporate tax inversion, in which an American company is able to incorporate abroad by acquiring a foreign company. The buyer, in effect, becomes a subsidiary of a foreign parent. 

Walgreen would accomplish an inversion by completing its purchase, which is expected to happen in early 2015, of Switzerland-based Alliance Boots and moving its corporate home to Europe's largest pharmacy chain.

The Deerfield-based company faces a tough choice, one in which it must balance profits with corporate social responsibility. By going ahead with an inversion, Walgreen would give ammunition to critics who claim the company is essentially renouncing its U.S. citizenship. 

As the Tribune article makes clear, the hit to US taxpayers from the Walgreen Company alone would be significant:

In an inversion, Walgreen would still pay U.S. income taxes but much less than the approximately 37 percent effective tax rate (including state and local taxes) it now pays for its U.S.-based business, corporate tax experts said. One stock analyst estimated that a Walgreen inversion would cost U.S. taxpayers $2.35 billion in the first three years after the transaction.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

quadcop(Photo: Kevin Baird)

Much of the outrage about drone use has been directed at the targeted murders authorized by President Obama, along with the "collateral damage" deaths of countless civilians in the Middle East.  Add to that other killing expeditions of CIA drones and the outrage has risen, at least among US advocates who care about the sanctioned assassinations of the US government.

However, it should also be of concern to the US public that there is a growing use of "hobby" and current commercial (although illegal use) of much smaller drones fitted with cameras that can spy into every aspect of your visible daily life. If you want to know how easily available these drones that have a camera with high-resolution telescopic lens capabilities are to obtain, just go to ebay, for example.

Posted for sale at this eBay url is the "DJI Phantom FC40 Quadcopter WiFI Camera Drone for Aerial Photography" (new at $499, includes free shipping).  The page also includes more expensive models that have longer range, longer flying time and include video capabilities. For example, take a look at the $1,190 Phantom 2 Vision model. It includes such capabilities as:

The DJI Vision App for iOS and Android smartphones provides many functions apart from just FPV monitoring, such as telemetry of vital flight stats including remaining battery and number of GPS satellites and a radar scope to help avoid collisions. It also features full camera control, letting you set parameters such as camera tilt, ISO, Shutter Speed, White balance as well as set video start/stop and take photos. Once recorded, photos and video footage can be downloaded directly to the phone allowing them to be shared on Facebook, Instagram or other social media networks, even while the Quadcopter is still in the air.

The control capabilities for filming and photography are extremely advanced, including the ability to tilt the camera lens, zoom in several hundred feet and rotate the camera range. Personally, I have seen the images of one of these drones that went over an island and zoomed down (via a telescopic lens) on a memorial plaque from the sky and the inscription was crisply visible in the video that ended up on YouTube.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

adissent 1(Photo: Glyn Lowe Photoworks)

The unsparingly caustic Charles P. Pierce recently identified the dominant political culture in the United States as one of cruelty. In his Esquire blog on June 20, Pierce zeroed in on the rise of schadenfreude as the current national pastime:

There is a new kind of systematized cruelty in our daily lives, in how we relate to each other, and in how we treat our fellow citizens, and, therefore, there is a new kind of systematized cruelty in our politics as well....

We cheer for cruelty and say that we are asking for personal responsibility among those people who are not us, because the people who are not us do not deserve the same benefits of the political commonwealth that we have. In our politics, we have become masters of camouflage. We practice fiscal cruelty and call it an economy. We practice legal cruelty and call it justice. We practice environmental cruelty and call it opportunity. We practice vicarious cruelty and call it entertainment. We practice rhetorical cruelty and call it debate. We set the best instincts of ourselves in conflict with each other until they tear each other to ribbons, and until they are no longer our best instincts but something dark and bitter and corroborate with itself. And then it fights all the institutions that our best instincts once supported, all the elements of the political commonwealth that we once thought permanent, all the arguments that we once thought settled -- until there is a terrible kind of moral self-destruction that touches those institutions and leaves them soft and fragile and, eventually, evanescent. We do all these things, cruelty running through them like hot blood, and we call it our politics.

A large segment of the public responds to political campaigns that - often in coded language - vilify and blame those who are in economically distressed circumstances. It is the most selfish of cruelties: justifying one's heartlessness and venom by accusing those in need of deserving their condition.

This self-righteous malice is also used to stifle dissent. Take, for instance, the reaction of the North Carolina legislature, which responded to the principled challenge mounted by Moral Mondays - in which crowds seeking to restore compassion to government protested at the state capitol – by passing a prohibition on "imminent disturbances" earlier this year.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ewarrenporch(Photo: mdfriendofHillary)

Nearly a year ago (on July 11, 2013), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act of 2013, which is described on her Senate website as: 

A bill to reduce risks to the financial system by limiting banks' ability to engage in certain risky activities and limiting conflicts of interest, to reinstate certain Glass-Steagall Act protections that were repealed by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, and for other purposes.

The purpose of the bill is to restore economic stability to the United States by once again limiting the expansion of banking into high-risk activity and financial areas that create a conflict of interest, as indicated in the bill itself:

(1) to reduce risks to the financial system by limiting banks' ability to engage in activities other than socially valuable core banking activities; 

(2) to protect taxpayers and reduce moral hazard by removing explicit and implicit government guarantees for high-risk activities outside of the core business of banking; and

(3) to eliminate conflicts of interest that arise from banks engaging in activities from which their profits are earned at the expense of their customers or clients.

However, it is nearly a year since Warren (with nine Senate cosponsors and a companion bill in the House) introduced the bill, and it is currently languishing in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. 

In a June 13th media alert (via email), Public Citizen pointed out that the Glass-Steagall act protected this nation from egregious financial shenanigans - such as the economic meltdown of 2008 - for a half a century:

Unless you got stinking rich in the run-up to the Great Recession, there’s nothing good you can say about the way Washington tore down the regulatory firewall between commercial and investment banking. The idea to dismantle the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which protected our economy so well for 50 years, was a disaster waiting to happen from the start. Had that key financial regulation been left intact, Americans wouldn’t have suffered such enormous loss and hardship to satisfy Wall Street’s insatiable greed.

Monday, June 16, mark[ed] the 81st anniversary of the passage of the original Glass-Steagall law. We need to renew its principles to protect consumers from suffering the consequences when tricky, high-risk financial instruments like derivatives that banksters engineer to increase their profits and personal fortunes go bad.

The 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act (S. 1282) sponsored by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is designed to restore the essentials of the original law separating the banking business of high-flying speculators from other banking practices to protect Main Street.  Public Citizen and Americans for Financial Reform, a coalition of more than 200 organizations on whose executive committee Public Citizen sits, are leading the call to the U.S. Senate to support this critical financial reform. 

Those who remember know that the repeal of Glass-Steagall occurred, with the support of the Clinton administration, in 1999. 

 

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

anamericandream(Photo: marmet553)

Rarely is living in a car in an urban area a decision of choice.

The increasing economic impoverishment and long-term unemployment of people in the United States - as well as the number of people with mental health issues who do not have residences or access to residential facilities - is making a vehicle the residence of last resort.

In Los Angeles, a federal court struck down a municipal ordinance that made it a crime to use a car for overnight shelter. According to The Los Angeles Times:

For the second time in two years, a federal appeals court has struck down a key enforcement tool in Los Angeles' efforts to deal with burgeoning homelessness, declaring a ban on living in vehicles an invitation to discriminate against the poor.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided unanimously Thursday that a city ordinance prohibiting people from living in vehicles was unconstitutionally vague. That ruling followed a 9th Circuit decision in 2012 that prevented Los Angeles from confiscating and destroying possessions that homeless people leave temporarily on sidewalks.

The judge who wrote the opinion - representing a 3-0 appeals court panel ruling - chastised the city of Los Angeles for punishing poverty instead of trying to assist those in need:

"The City of Los Angeles has many options at its disposal to alleviate the plight and suffering of its homeless citizens," wrote Judge Harry Pregerson, who was appointed by President Carter. "Selectively preventing the homeless and the poor from using their vehicles for activities many other citizens also conduct in their cars should not be one of those options."

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

amtrak3(Photo: Wikipedia)

Add this to another adverse side effect of fracking: On some major (and secondary routes), long freight trains filled with fracking oils and extraction supplies allegedly delay Amtrak trains for hours, enraging passengers and likely decreasing Amtrak usage on the affected routes.

Although a quick Google search of Amtrak and fracking reveals that this disruption due to fracking shipments has occurred in various parts of the nation, the most affected route appears to be the Empire Builder, which runs from Seattle to Chicago.  Indeed, the Midwest Amtrak PR representative, Mark Maglari, referred BuzzFlash at Truthout to an Amtrak service alert warning passengers of delays on the Empire Builder route:

Passengers traveling aboard Empire Builder trains can encounter significant delays due to very high volumes of freight train traffic along the route. During the previous weeks in May and June, delays averaged between three and five hours. While delays to the Empire Builder have primarily been occurring west of St. Paul, MN, passengers should anticipate delays in both directions.

Maglari pointed out what is confirmed by other sources: BNSF Railway Company owns the tracks that Amtrak uses in North Dakota. Given that the tracks are the property of BNSF, it decides which trains have de facto priority passage (even though a federal law is supposed to give priority to Amtrak), and it has apparently given fracking and oil container car shipments passage scheduling times that impede the passage of Amtrak passenger trains (and, apparently, trains carrying farm goods that are perishable).

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

anonukes322(Photo: Dizzy)

The recent White House announcement of executive branch-mandated carbon cuts has evoked much debate about whether the incremental step is going to have any significant impact on rolling back the global warming juggernaut.

According to Environmental Protection Agency Chief Gina McCarthy, however, a key objective of the federal regulation to cut back on coal power plant emissions is not in question. McCarthy, in a meeting with Chicago corporate executives, revealed that the White House's primary aim in implementation of moderately increased carbon cutback requirements is to kick-start the US nuclear power industry.

In a June 18 business section article of The Chicago Tribune, Julie Wernau reports:

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said Tuesday that the federal agency's proposed carbon rules are designed to boost nuclear plants that are struggling to compete.

There are a handful of nuclear facilities that because they are having trouble remaining competitive, they haven't yet looked at re-licensing (to extend their operating lives). We were simply highlighting that fact,” McCarthy said at a round-table discussion with business leaders in Chicago.

The comments by the highest-ranking official charged with carrying out the Obama administration's environmental policies firmly positions the U.S. as a supporter of nuclear power, which doesn't emit carbon. Those views run counter to Germany, which is phasing out nuclear power over health and environmental concerns after Japan's nuclear disaster in 2011.

The headline of the Tribune story reinforces McCarthy's statement on the White House's public policy goal: "EPA: Carbon rules could ensure nuclear power's survival."

As an Illinois state senator and as a candidate for president in 2008, Obama voiced his support of the nuclear power industry. However, since that time - particularly post-Fukushima - the revival of the nuclear energy has not been prominent in the president's remarks about reducing global warming.

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