Protesting the Corporate Tax Breaks/Evasions

Some working folks took to the street yesterday to point out the hidden obvious — the big get away with big breaks, while the little guy east dust.

City nurses, janitors and other workers marched to Twitter’s headquarters on tax day Tuesday to deliver a symbolic tax bill for tens of millions of dollars for the “corporate tax giveaway” that helped persuade the company to move to San Francisco’s Mid-Market area

SF Gate

SEIU Twitter

Protesters target Apple for offshore tax shelters

Protesters dressed up as Apple Store employees in telltale blue t-shirts marched in front of the Union Square store Tuesday morning, calling on Apple to pay taxes on the $102 billion they said the company holds overseas.

The protest called on tech’s ethos of making the world a better place. Flyers handed out at the protest to shoppers passing by the store pointed them to www.techcandobetter.org, which pushes for better wages for security guards at tech companies.

SEIU USWW, the union that organized the march, represents security guards and janitors at many companies, not just tech, in San Francisco and the East Bay.

SF Gate


CO2 Accumulating Faster than Ever

Front page around the world about the latest IPCC report/warning.  It’s bad and getting badder….

The countries of the world have dragged their feet so long on global warming that the situation is now critical, experts appointed by the United Nations reported Sunday, and only an intensive worldwide push over the next 15 years can stave off potentially disastrous climatic changes later in the century.

NY Times

Global greenhouse gas emissions over the past decade were the “highest in human history”, according to the world’s leading scientific body for the assessment of climate change. Without further action, temperatures will increase by about 4 to 5C, compared with pre-industrial levels, it warns, a level that could reap devastating effects on the planet.

The Independent

Though it’s small solace, innovations keep coming.  Here’s one from Seattle.

At the end of last week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave the go-ahead for a 10-year project testing our ability to generate electricity from the movement of the ocean.

The license permits Public Utility District No. 1 of Snohomish County to install two underwater turbines in the Admiralty Inlet near Seattle, Washington. The turbines will be provided by OpenHydro, and should produce 300 kilowatts a piece. Each turbine is nearly 20 feet high and will be mounted to the sea floor by triangular bases, about 200 feet underwater. They’re designed to generate power over a range of water flow velocities regardless of which direction the tide is flowing. Two 7,000 foot cables will carry the electricity they generate to shore.

Climate Progress

 

 


Free Markets, Not So Free –Again

Every few weeks we get another example of how the deified Free Markets of the Western World are not so free at all.  Free markets suppose that information about the goods being bought and sold is full, and that all interested parties have access to it, so that a ‘fair’ agreement can be reached between seller and buyer as to its value.

Full knowledge about the goods being sold is the first thing a budding entrepreneur seeks to hide.  The most recent way to do this is through complexification:  make a financial derivative so complex that no one can understand it, then pitch it hard enough and the buyer goes on hope and greed, never mind the knowing.

Books Flash BoysMichael Lewis, in his newest book, Flash Boys, shows us another cohort of free-market fanatics who sell the line and don’t believe in it at all:  high-speed traders.  Throw enough money and technology to sneak a peak and jump the line in trades, making pennies per share for multi-million share trades and a very nice profit happens — at the expense of those who, not knowing, pay a little “value-stolen” tax.

Lewis appeared on 60 Minutes Sunday, March 30, 2014 in a piece called “Is the U.S. Stock market rigged?

High-frequency traders, big Wall Street firms and stock exchanges have spent billions to gain an advantage of a millisecond for themselves and their customers, just to get a peek at stock market prices and orders a flash before everyone else, along with the opportunity to act on it.

Michael Lewis: The insiders are able to move faster than you. They’re able to see your order and play it against other orders in ways that you don’t understand. They’re able to front run your order.

Steve Kroft: What do you mean front run?

Michael Lewis: Means they’re able to identify your desire to, to buy shares in Microsoft and buy ‘em in front of you and sell ‘em back to you at a higher price. It all happens in infinitesimally small periods of time. There’s speed advantage that the faster traders have is milliseconds, some of it is fractions of milliseconds. But it”s enough for them to identify what you’re gonna do and do it before you do it at your expense.

Steve Kroft: So it drives the price up.

Michael Lewis: So it drives the price up, and in turn you pay a higher price.

Lewis also had a compressed version of the book in the Sunday New York Times Magazine, April 6, 2014  with much more of the technical details of how the skimming worked.

Katsuyama and his team did measure how much more cheaply they bought stock when they removed the ability of some other unknown trader to front-run them. For instance, they bought 10 million shares of Citigroup, then trading at roughly $4 per share, and saved $29,000 — or less than 0.1 percent of the total price. “That was the invisible tax,” Park says. It sounded small until you realized that the average daily volume in the U.S. stock market was $225 billion. The same tax rate applied to that sum came to nearly $160 million a day. “It was so insidious because you couldn’t see it,” Katsuyama says. “It happens on such a granular level that even if you tried to line it up and figure it out, you wouldn’t be able to do it. People are getting screwed because they can’t imagine a microsecond.”

Joe Nocera, at the Times, is impressed with the detective work of the small group who figured out what was happening and came up with a solution, of sorts, to keep the high-speed traders at the same speed as everyone else, though he thinks Lewis tells a story too perfectly at times.

William Alden at the Times’ “Deal Book” has a short precis of the book and alerts us to a live yelling match on CNBC between William O’Brien, the president of the BATS Global Markets exchange, who was clearly enraged and Lewis and Katsuyama.

O’Brien ought to be yelling as investigations of the practice have been begun in multiple places, one of which will certainly make changes to the legality of the peep-hole these traders have enjoyed for years.

It’s all pretty damned interesting.  Probably won’t get people to the barricades but it may be another straw in the growing bale of perception that wealth creation is more and more a rigged game, whose rules are written by the riggers and their hired politicians.


Mud is predictable and was

Eagan has it absolutely right:

DON’T tell me, please, that nobody saw one of the deadliest landslides in American history coming. Say a prayer or send a donation for a community buried under a mountain of mud along a great river in Washington State, the Stillaguamish. Praise the emergency workers still trying to find a pulse of life in a disaster that left 25 people dead and 90 missing.

But enough with the denial, the willful ignorance of cause and effect, the shock that one of the prettiest valleys on the planet could turn in a flash from quiet respite in the foothills of the North Cascades to a gravelly graveyard.

And, as he says, the rain may have been an Act of God but the logging that changed forest to post-forest sponge was not

NYTimes;Eagan


Death by Pollution Soaring

This ain't dusk folks, it's pollution in Guangdong Province, China (Credit Alex Lee/Reuters )

This ain’t dusk folks, it’s pollution in Guangdong Province, China (Credit Alex Lee/Reuters )

“From taxi tailpipes in Paris to dung-fired stoves in New Delhi, air pollution claimed seven million lives around the world in 2012, according to figures released Tuesday by the World Health Organization. More than one-third of those deaths, the organization said, occurred in fast-developing nations of Asia, where rates of cardiovascular and pulmonary disease have been soaring.

Around the world, one out of every eight deaths was tied to dirty air, the agency determined — twice as many as previously estimated. Its report identified air pollution as the world’s single biggest environmental health risk.

… The report found that those who are most vulnerable live in a wide arc of Asia stretching from Japan and China in the northeast to India in the south.

Exposure to smoke from cooking fires means that poor women are especially at risk, the agency said

Indoor air pollutants loomed as the largest threat, involved in 4.3 million deaths in 2012, while toxic air outdoors figured in 3.7 million deaths, the agency said. Many deaths were attributed to both.

See New York Times: Jacobs and Johnson


Yee Indicted in Major FBI Sweep

Update: The dollar speaks!  This is about as big, and ugly, as it gets.

Yee, a Democrat who represents half of San Francisco and most of San Mateo County, was one of 26 people ensnared in a five-year federal investigation that targeted Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a notorious Chinatown gangster who had claimed to have gone straight, officials said.

An outspoken advocate of gun control and open government, Yee is charged with conspiring to traffic in firearms as well as six counts of scheming to defraud citizens of honest services. He has not commented on the allegations.

SF Gate (With many more links)

I am always suspicious about entrapment cases but what is surely true here is that Lee was entrapped by the need not for personal wealth, at least in the beginning, but for campaign money.  The stories about hours spent, arms twisted, promises made in order to make the daily take are enough to fill the Library of Congress — and ought to be doing so.

*

Wow!  For a moderately interested observer of San Francisco politics this comes as a surprise.

State Sen. Leland Yee has been indicted for public corruption as part of a major FBI operation Wednesday morning spanning the Bay Area, law-enforcement sources said, casting yet another cloud of corruption over the Democratic establishment in the state Legislature and torpedoing Yee’s aspirations for statewide office in California.

Mercury News


Thailand Elections Annulled

Whew!  The turmoil in Thailand just got turned up a notch, and no sign of things cooling down…

Thailand’s Constitutional Court on Friday annulled last month’s general election, leaving the country in political limbo without a full government and further undermining a prime minister faced with impeachment over a failed rice subsidy scheme.

Weakened by five months of unrest, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is expected to defend herself before an anti-corruption commission by March 31, and a decision to seek her impeachment could come soon after that, with the Senate expected to take up the matter quickly.

As the crisis deepens, there is a growing risk that the “red shirt” supporters of Yingluk and her brother, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra could confront their opponents in the streets, plunging Thailand into a fresh round of political violence.

NY Times: Sawitta Lefevre


Young Turks All A Twitter

The new self-appointed strongman of Turkey, Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is finding out how hard it is to swat the pesky tweets of his citizens.

It is a sign of the difficulty of banning Twitter in the age of Twitter that within hours of the Turkish government’s attempt to block the social media site, President Abdullah Gul was one of thousands of Turks who protested the ban — using Twitter.

“Shutting down social media platforms cannot be approved,” Mr. Gul posted on Twitter on Friday, adding that “it is not technically possible to fully block access to globally active platforms like Twitter, anyway.”

… At the Buster Internet cafe in Istanbul, a student, Engin Alturk, said the prohibition had only encouraged people to post more messages. “We lived without YouTube for a year; we know all the tricks to get around this,” he added. “Erdogan must think us stupid.”

NY Times: Arsu & Bilefsky


Janet Yellen: New View of Economic Health?

Don’t know if Heidi Moore at the Guardian, UK is blowing smoke, or if she’s even an economist but I thought her comments about US Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen’s first presser were interesting. No others who have commented had such an interpretation.

“Wall Street is finally being forced to think for itself.

Today marked the first press conference for Janet Yellen, the first female chairman of the Federal Reserve.

… Yellen wiped away one lazy way of measuring the economy’s health. The Fed, under Bernanke, promised that when the unemployment rate hit 6.5%, the central bank would raise interest rates. This was called quantitative guidance, and it fed Wall Street’s fetish for largely made-up numbers. The 6.5% benchmark was a big hit with traders. It meant they didn’t have to think very hard: when unemployment hit 6.5%, Wall Street could start girding itself for a rise in interest rates.

Then Yellen shut down the betting parlor. In a statement, the Fed said it “will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial developments. This is what is now called ‘qualitative guidance’”.

Translation: the Fed is looking at when the economy improves, and the economy comprises a giant number of measures and statistics. If Wall Street wants Cliffs Notes, it will have to look elsewhere.

… No longer will the Fed promise to raise interest rates at 6.5% unemployment. Instead, the Fed will raise interest rates when the economy is strong enough to justify it. Wall Street will just have to get over itself.

Yellen was clear that from now on, those market pundits are going to be forced to really think about where the economy is going, using a range of numbers, including how many people are dropping out of the workforce, how easy mortgages are to get, and whether regular people find it easy to borrow.

In her comments today, Yellen showed a sensitivity to the economy as real people experience it: mortgages that are hard to get, businesses that aren’t investing, “kids shacking up with their families”, people dropping out of the labor force because they can’t find jobs.

Read all Guardian: Moore

We won’t know for a while, of course, whether Yellen is actually setting out on a different road, or whether that road will lead to good results.  But since the human mind loves to speculate about everything from basketball tournament outcomes to where a missing airliner might be we might as well have a go at matters that actually affect us.


The New Pottery Barn Rule: You Break it, You Move On

Contrary to Colin Powell’s much quoted warning “You Break it, You Own It,” the policy and military elites of the United States who broke Iraq have just moved on in their always comfortable lives.  This week is the 11th anniversary of the Bush-Cheney invasion.  Last year, 2013, some 8,000 Iraqi’s died in the continuing sectarian violence triggered by that invasion.

Here are some reminders.

Greg Mitchell at The Nation:

As we approach the eleventh anniversary of the US attack on Iraq this week, we may face a bit more media coverage of that tragic conflict than usual. How much of it will focus on the media misconduct that helped make the war possible (and then continue for so long)? It’s certainly not something the media like to dwell on.

For now, let’s relive just some of the good, the bad and the ugly in war coverage from the run-up to the invasion through the five years of controversy that followed. In updating the first e-book version of my book, So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits—and the President—Failed on Iraq, which features a preface by Bruce Springsteen, I was surprised to come across once-prominent quotes and incidents that had faded a bit, even for me. Here is a list of fifteen episodes, in roughly chronological order.

1) In late March 2003, the day before the US invasion, Bill O’Reilly said, “If the Americans go in and overthrow Saddam Hussein and it’s clean, he has nothing, I will apologize to the nation; I will not trust the Bush administration again, all right?”

2) After the fall of Baghdad in April, Joe Scarborough, on MSNBC, said, “I’m waiting to hear the words ‘I was wrong’ from some of the world’s most elite journalists, politicians and Hollywood types.”

3) The same day, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews declared, “We’re all neocons now.”

4) Thomas Friedman, who had called this a “legitimate war of choice,” now wrote at The New York Times, “As far as I am concerned, we do not need to find any weapons of mass destruction to justify this war…. Mr. Bush doesn’t owe the world any explanation for missing chemical weapons.”

read all

Katrina vanden Heuvel at the Nation looks back at the warnings and predictions of some who opposed the invasion:

This Monday marks the eleventh anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq—a solemn punctuation mark to the steadily increasing violence that has gripped that country over the past two years. Sectarian violence claimed more than 8,000 Iraqis in 2013 alone, and this year’s toll has already surpassed 2,000. Iraq today is a broken and failing state: the war that many would prefer to believe ended in 2011 continues unabated, with Iraqis continuing to suffer, as much as ever, the fallout from this country’s callous lies and avoidable mistakes. Despite Colin Powell’s sanctimonious “Pottery Barn rule,” John Feffer wrote on his Foreign Policy in Focus blog at TheNation.com last month, the United States has made no effort to “own up to our responsibility for breaking the country.”

read all

Rachel Maddow put together a substantial investigation about the pre-planning to take over Iraq’s oil fields, much before the 9/11 attacks.  This is the first part of it, which you can find at MSNBC