We’re Killing our Planet

We are killing our planet, and while it might be the tiny fragment who benefit in the short term monetarily, it is anyone who refuses to acknowledge or stop the problem who is equally complicit. I start to list all of the things we are doing to this earth, most of which is done in the name of increasing short-term wealth for a very few, but much of which increases conveniences for a lot of us, and the list grows too big to write out in a blog post. There are books listing all we are doing and what could and should be done (Eaarth by Bill McKibben is a favorite), so I don’t really need to list out all of it anyway. Sometimes it is just hearing about a couple of these things within the same two hours that gets my stomach rolling. Today in Master Gardener class we discussed the multiple assaults that are decimating the bee populations. This was followed closely by the big money, big oil bullshit report by the USDA on the Keystone XL pipeline. Most Americans aren’t following this, and of those who are, many don’t realize that those who wrote the report were hand-picked by big oil interests. Gads, when are people going to realize that we are being railroaded on every front? How bad does it have to get?

Herein lies another part of why I rarely write here anymore is because it all just seems too big and too insurmountable. I am simply one tiny voice not being heard. This is not sour grapes; it is reality. I have thought and analyzed and considered and wondered, and then thought about it all again, what is the purpose in my writing here? The conclusion I continually draw is that if I’m trying to get some message out about what we are doing to this earth, this blog adds very little to the conversation, and so I don’t write, not much anyway, because it is so overwhelming.

We have to save our planet. People have got to start caring and doing more than separating their trash into piles that can be recycled versus those that can’t. It is going to take something bigger from each and every one of us. In the meantime, the planet will never be the same. It can’t. We can only hope to make it a place that we can live on for more than a few more decades. We have got to see past this minute and understand our long term actions. We have got to be mindful in every single thing that we do, because it has an impact. We ALL have an impact. Go buy some plastic contrivance for your child’s birthday? Recognize that the plastic contrivance has a long-term impact, then ask whether it is worth the trade off. I cannot imagine anyone who really understands this ever believing that whatever they gain from the plastic contrivance will outweigh the life of our earth. Because it is that important. Every tiny decision adds to the mass that makes everything a very, big deal. It does overwhelm me because it really is that big and because we have chosen not to pay attention, now we will be forced to take action as we are bombarded by climate event after climate event, and lose species after species after species.

I really believe if we are to survive, and honestly I’m not sure I would want to be a part of an earth populated only with humans, we have got to change. We have to stop participating in a system that doesn’t work. We have got to stop polarizing and warring. It will only happen through peace and love, if we can actually get there. I see glimmers of hope, interspersed with stories about the bees and the Keystone XL, but sometimes it is really difficult to maintain equanimity.

Global tax dodgers exposed — Salon.com

Shared post from Salon.com can be seen here.

Global tax dodgers exposed

UPDATED: Tax havens of oligarchs, politicians and the wealthy unveiled by largest file leak ever

BY 

Updated, 12:15 p.m.: ICIJ pointed out that many of the world’s major banks – including UBS, Clariden and Deutsche Bank – have aggressively worked to provide their customers with secrecy-cloaked companies in the British Virgin Islands and other offshore hideaways:

Documents obtained by ICIJ show how two top Swiss banks, UBS and Clariden, worked with TrustNet to provide their customers with secrecy-shielded companies in the BVI and other offshore centers.

Clariden, owned by Credit Suisse, sought such high levels of confidentiality for some clients, the records show, that a TrustNet official described the bank’s request as “the Holy Grail” of offshore entities — a company so anonymous that police and regulators would be “met with a blank wall” if they tried to discover the owners’ identities.

Clariden declined to answer questions about its relationship with TrustNet.

“Because of Swiss banking secrecy laws, we are not allowed to provide any information about existing or supposed accountholders,” the bank said. “As a general rule, Credit Suisse and its related companies respect all the laws and regulations in the countries in which they are involved.”

A spokesperson for UBS said the bank applies “the highest international standards” to fight money laundering, and that TrustNet “is one of over 800 service providers globally which UBS clients choose to work with to provide for their wealth and succession planning needs. These service providers are also used by clients of other banks.”

Updated, 11: 40 a.m.: And here are some more notable individuals found by theGuardian/ICIJ investigation to be hiding funds in offshore accounts:

  • Jean-Jacques Augier, France’s François Hollande’s 2012 election campaign co-treasurer, launched a Caymans-based distributor in China with a 25 percent partner in a BVI company. Augier says his partner was Xi Shu, a Chinese businessman.
  • Mongolia’s former finance minister. Bayartsogt Sangajav set up “Legend Plus Capital Ltd” with a Swiss bank account, while he served as finance minister of the impoverished state from 2008 to 2012. He says it was “a mistake” not to declare it, and says “I probably should consider resigning from my position”.
  • The president of Azerbaijan and his family. A local construction magnate, Hassan Gozal, controls entities set up in the names of President Ilham Aliyev’s two daughters.
  • A senator’s husband in Canada. Lawyer Tony Merchant deposited more than US$800,000 into an offshore trust.
  • Spain’s wealthiest art collector, Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, a former beauty queen and widow of a Thyssen steel billionaire, who uses offshore entities to buy art.

Updated, 11: 20 a.m.: Nominee directors, military and intelligence links: As was original highlighted by the Guardian/ICIJ last year, a number of so-called nominee directors of companies registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) have connections to military or intelligence activities.

Notably Gamma Group — the firm that develops surveillance software that (as noted here) has been used by oppressive regimes against activists including in Bahrain — was found to have offshore funds in the BVI:

Louthean Nelson owns the Gamma Group, a controversial computer surveillance firmemploying ex-military personnel. It sells bugging technology to Middle East and south-east Asian governments.

Nelson owns a BVI offshore arm, Gamma Group International Ltd.

Martin Muench, who has a 15 per cent share in the company’s German subsidiary, said he was the group’s sole press spokesman, and told us: “Louthean Nelson is not associated with any company by the name of Gamma Group International Ltd. If by chance you are referring to any other Gamma company, then the explanation is the same for each and every one of them.”

After he was confronted with evidence obtained by the ICIJ/Guardian investigation, Muench changed his position. He told us: “You are absolutely right, apparently there is a Gamma Group International Ltd.”

The ICIJ also notes a “sham” director who is U.K.-based operative working to hide money for the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line –  a firm the E.U., the U.N. and the U.S. have accused IRISL of aiding Iran’s nuclear-development program. Under the front name “Tamalaris Consolidated Limited,” the company registered in the BVI with the British-based operative named as director.

Updated, 10.50 a.m.: Sham directors: The Guardian, whose investigative journalists collaborated with ICIJ in the tax haven project, highlights a list of “sham directors” uncovered in the leaked files. These individuals “appear on official records as directors of companies while acting only on the instructions of its real owners, who stay invisible and off-the-books.”

Over 22,000 companies use this network of 0nly 28 sham directors — some with over 700 companies to their names with offshore account holdings. See here for a full table of these sham directors.

Original post: A trove of leaked documents 160 times the size of Wikileaks’ cache reveals the vast global web of tax havens in which the world’s wealthiest hide their fortunes. A 15-month investigation carried out by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which involved dozens of reporters sifting through thousands of leaked files from offshore companies and trusts, highlights the dirty dealings between politicians and the mega-rich involved in tax evasion.

“The leaked files provide facts and figures — cash transfers, incorporation dates, links between companies and individuals — that illustrate how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe, allowing the wealthy and the well-connected to dodge taxes and fueling corruption and economic woes in rich and poor nations alike,” noted ICIJ on the investigation’s publication.

The trove of data — believed to be the largest leak in history — exposes some 120,000 letterbox entities, offshore accounts and other nefarious deals in more than 170 countries, alongside the names of 140,000 individuals alleged to have placed their money in known tax havens.

The investigation found high profile individuals from around the world — from oligarchs to the family members of dictators, to wealthy American financiers and professionals — engaged in efforts to dodge fiscal authorities. Individuals and groups found to be part of the tax evasion web include (via ICIJ):

  • Individuals and companies linked to Russia’s Magnitsky Affair, a tax fraud scandal that has strained U.S.-Russia relations and led to a ban on Americans adopting Russian orphans.
  • A Venezuelan deal maker accused of using offshore entities to bankroll a U.S.-based Ponzi scheme and funneling millions of dollars in bribes to a Venezuelan government official.
  • A corporate mogul who won billions of dollars in contracts amid Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s massive construction boom even as he served as a director of secrecy-shrouded offshore companies owned by the president’s daughters.
  • Indonesian billionaires with ties to the late dictator Suharto, who enriched a circle of elites during his decades in power.
  • The eldest daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, found to be a beneficiary of a British Virgin Islands (BVI) trust. (Philippine officials said they were eager to find out whether any assets in the trust are part of the estimated $5 billion her father amassed through corruption.)
  • The wife of Russia’s deputy prime minister, Igor Shuvalov, and two top executives with Gazprom, the Russian government-owned corporate behemoth that is the world’s largest extractor of natural gas, identified in offshore data.
  • Among nearly 4,000 American names is Denise Rich, a Grammy-nominated songwriter whose ex-husband was at the center of an American pardon scandal that erupted as President Bill Clinton left office.

We will continue to update this post once more details from the extensive tax evasion leaks emerge.

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

Dolly and Steve, What Have You Done to Your Faces?

Dear Steve Martin and Dolly Parton,

Your age would have looked better than whatever it is you have done to your faces. You both have always managed to present an aura of self-possession through which the surgeries have exposed a fissure, a dissonance.  It’s a shock, frankly. There are other entertainment figures who, if they were to undergo such drastic and obvious alterations, it would seem in character with the person they have presented to the public over the years. But not you.

It’s ironic too, that on some level you were seeking to pass as youthful, with that sort of attractiveness, and in your bizarre caricatures, you have made yourself even more noticeable, but not for the reasons you sought. The attractiveness of your age would have been enough. Having spent years watching you, we would have understood the grace it takes to remain public and mature.

In any case, you surprised me. You under met my expectations. I do hope on a personal level that the extraordinary surgeries have helped you to understand how little important what you desired was to who you are.

The Shocking Truth About the Crackdown on Occupy

The Shocking Truth About the Crackdown on Occupy  The violent police assaults across the US are no coincidence. Occupy has touched the third rail of our political class’s venality.

by Naomi Wolf

This post is a reprint and can be found here.

US citizens of all political persuasions are still reeling from images of unparallelled police brutality in a coordinated crackdown against peaceful OWS protesters in cities across the nation this past week. An elderly woman was pepper-sprayed in the face; the scene of unresisting, supine students at UC Davis being pepper-sprayed by phalanxes of riot police went viral online; images proliferated of young women – targeted seemingly for their gender – screaming, dragged by the hair by police in riot gear; and the pictures of a young man, stunned and bleeding profusely from the head, emerged in the record of the middle-of-the-night clearing of Zuccotti Park.

But just when Americans thought we had the picture – was this crazy police and mayoral overkill, on a municipal level, in many different cities? – the picture darkened. The National Union of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a Freedom of Information Act request to investigate possible federal involvement with law enforcement practices that appeared to target journalists. The New York Times reported that “New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers” covering protests. Reporters were asked by NYPD to raise their hands to prove they had credentials: when many dutifully did so, they were taken, upon threat of arrest, away from the story they were covering, andpenned far from the site in which the news was unfolding. Other reporters wearing press passes were arrested and roughed up by cops, after being – falsely – informed by police that “It is illegal to take pictures on the sidewalk.”

In New York, a state supreme court justice and a New York City council member were beaten up; in Berkeley, California, one of our greatest national poets, Robert Hass, was beaten with batons. The picture darkened still further when Wonkette and Washingtonsblog.com reported that the Mayor of Oakland acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had participated in an 18-city mayor conference call advising mayors on “how to suppress” Occupy protests.

To Europeans, the enormity of this breach may not be obvious at first. Our system of government prohibits the creation of a federalised police force, and forbids federal or militarised involvement in municipal peacekeeping.

I noticed that rightwing pundits and politicians on the TV shows on which I was appearing were all on-message against OWS. Journalist Chris Hayes reported on a leaked memo that revealed lobbyists vying for an $850,000 contract to smear Occupy. Message coordination of this kind is impossible without a full-court press at the top. This was clearly not simply a case of a freaked-out mayors’, city-by-city municipal overreaction against mess in the parks and cranky campers. As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels.

Why this massive mobilisation against these not-yet-fully-articulated, unarmed, inchoate people? After all, protesters against the war in Iraq, Tea Party rallies and others have all proceeded without this coordinated crackdown. Is it really the camping? As I write, two hundred young people, with sleeping bags, suitcases and even folding chairs, are still camping out all night and day outside of NBC on public sidewalks – under the benevolent eye of an NYPD cop – awaiting Saturday Night Live tickets, so surely the camping is not the issue. I was still deeply puzzled as to why OWS, this hapless, hopeful band, would call out a violent federal response.

That is, until I found out what it was that OWS actually wanted.

The mainstream media was declaring continually “OWS has no message”. Frustrated, I simply asked them. I began soliciting online “What is it you want?” answers from Occupy. In the first 15 minutes, I received 100 answers. These were truly eye-opening.

The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process. No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks. This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks.

No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.

When I saw this list – and especially the last agenda item – the scales fell from my eyes. Of course, these unarmed people would be having the shit kicked out of them.

For the terrible insight to take away from news that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated a violent crackdown is that the DHS does not freelance. The DHS cannot say, on its own initiative, “we are going after these scruffy hippies”. Rather, DHS is answerable up a chain of command: first, to New York Representative Peter King, head of the House homeland security subcommittee, who naturally is influenced by his fellow congressmen and women’s wishes and interests. And the DHS answers directly, above King, to the president (who was conveniently in Australia at the time).

In other words, for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS to authorise mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.

But wait: why on earth would Congress advise violent militarised reactions against its own peaceful constituents? The answer is straightforward: in recent years, members of Congress have started entering the system as members of the middle class (or upper middle class) – but they are leaving DC privy to vast personal wealth, as we see from the “scandal” of presidential contender Newt Gingrich’s having been paid $1.8m for a few hours’ “consulting” to special interests. The inflated fees to lawmakers who turn lobbyists are common knowledge, but the notion that congressmen and women are legislating their own companies’ profitsis less widely known – and if the books were to be opened, they would surely reveal corruption on a Wall Street spectrum. Indeed, we do already know that congresspeople are massively profiting from trading on non-public information they have on companies about which they are legislating – a form of insider trading that sent Martha Stewart to jail.

Since Occupy is heavily surveilled and infiltrated, it is likely that the DHS and police informers are aware, before Occupy itself is, what its emerging agenda is going to look like. If legislating away lobbyists’ privileges to earn boundless fees once they are close to the legislative process, reforming the banks so they can’t suck money out of fake derivatives products, and, most critically, opening the books on a system that allowed members of Congress to profit personally – and immensely – from their own legislation, are two beats away from the grasp of an electorally organised Occupy movement … well, you will call out the troops on stopping that advance.

So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence. It is a battle in which members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organised suppression against the people they are supposed to represent. Occupy has touched the third rail: personal congressional profits streams. Even though they are, as yet, unaware of what the implications of their movement are, those threatened by the stirrings of their dreams of reform are not.

Sadly, Americans this week have come one step closer to being true brothers and sisters of the protesters in Tahrir Square. Like them, our own national leaders, who likely see their own personal wealth under threat from transparency and reform, are now making war upon us.

The Olympics

I tried watching the Olympics on the internet tonight.  Greedy NBC can’t even let you watch old stuff without inserting hideous commercials so I turned it off.  Then I decided to try and watch it from another country. Canadian Television worked just fine without the stupid Proctor and Gamble ads.  Gag.  Commercials are one of the main reasons I do not own a television.  That, and most shows are so inane I can’t stand to waste my precious time watching them.  Life is happening; I would rather experience it (even when it’s not that exciting) than spend my time staring at some dumb television show.  I think back to the shows I used to watch when I had a t.v. and none of them were worth the time I spent.

I do like some of the cable series and have watched them on DVD, Six Feet Under, Weeds, and Dexter.  Unfortunately, though, whenever I get into one of these shows, they take over my life because I just want to watch and watch until I get to the end.  However, I do look back fondly on them, like a good book, which is different than mainstream television shows I spent years watching (ER, Party of Five, and Ally McBeal).  Years after I quit watching ER I tuned in.  None of the characters I had watched before were left.  I quit when they took the adopted child away from the gay doctor because she was gay.  That just made me too mad and I didn’t want to hang around for weeks to try and find out what happened, plus they always took months long breaks.

I haven’t had a television now for years and I don’t miss it.  Thought I missed it some when the Olympics started, but having tried to watch via NBC, I’ve gotten a clue how they run things and I would hate it.  I’m not missing anything.  NBC would chop the shit out of it all, ruin it with ads and cuts to other events right when things were getting interesting, keep out the athletes who aren’t their pets, and generally make viewing miserable.  I can get whatever I need right here on the internet.  I’ll log in to Ukranian television.  Yeah, that will work.

Bombing the Moon

Ever since I heard about NASA’s intention to bomb the moon (see the story here), thoughts and reactions to the news have been flittering in and out of my head.  There are so many, I have had difficulty articulating what one definitive thing bothers me the most about it.  Yet conclusively, my overall sense is that it is WRONG. s_full-moon

Cost:  Why is it we spend billions on crap like this, chasing water on the moon, when we can’t (or won’t) spend the same amount here to conserve water?  Senseless stupidity.  I won’t even get into the waste of money when unemployment numbers are higher than ever and we are in two wars…

No Choice:  NASA does what it wants.  We might vote in a mostly new Congress every two years, but we have such little control over how they spend our money, ultimately, what difference does it make?  Legislators on both sides of the aisle are unwilling to underfund NASA.  I’ve heard all the arguments about how NASA research benefits us all, and I’m sure there are aspects of their research that do, but this is just silly.  There might be the claim they are looking for water, but it’s really a bunch of grown kids who think it’s cool to go bomb the moon and there isn’t a damn thing any of us can do about it.  If they really wanted to conserve water, just as much would be spent on the very real climate and water problems we are experiencing right here on earth.  Plus, as silly as it sounds, the moon belongs to all of us, collectively.  What right do a few have to go and harm that which isn’t theirs?  They don’t.

The Unknown:  Scientists can conduct all the earth bound tests they want to.  The simple fact is there is no way of knowing what ramifications this will have on the moon and the earth.  These planets are inextricably linked.  The earth and moon are connected gravitationally and energetically.  Messing with these forces could alter our tidal patterns, weather patterns, and who knows what else.  It’s just foolishness.  And dangerous.

I don’t know.  If enough people feel about this as I do, then perhaps we could turn public opinion against it enough to get the government to stop it.  My inclination is though, that a bunch of idiots who like movies by Michael Bay would think it’s “AWESOME” and think that naysayers like myself are just a bunch of fuddy duddies.  American ignorance is so prevalent on so much else, I would not be surprised.  On most issues, I consider myself very forward thinking.  I’m willing to try most things.  But not this.  Bombing the moon isn’t only silly, it is scary and wrong.

Watch Out for the Big, Bad Pig

So a week ago I published a blurb about the swine flu thinking everyone was freaking out for nothing.  For a few days after, I wondered if maybe I got it wrong.  Now however, I’m back to my original premise.  I was also right about the foolish overreacting that would take place.  Some ountries have banned travel to Mexico.  Others have killed off a bunch of pigs.  Everyone is still all freaked out.  Yet the numbers of deaths have remained quite small and very contained even though the flu itself has shown up in many places.  Craziness.

The killing of the pigs really bugs me.  In spite of assertions by doctors and other scientists that this flu isn’t caught from eating pork, nor can it be transmitted from pigs to humans, Egypt killed over 300,000 pigs.  In response, the WHO came out with a statement that the name needs to be changed because killing pigs is unnecessary.

All the news organizations went nuts when a toddler died from the flu outside of Mexico, the first case outside that country.  EGADS!  It’s spreading!  Someone outside Mexico died!  We’re all going to get it!  It’s pandemic! We’re all dead!  Um, yeah.  Lost in the uproar was the fact the child was Mexican and had just been in Mexico.  It wasn’t like the flu came crawling across the border, snaking its way north in ever increasing tentacles.  Yet that is what the media worldwide seemed to want people to believe.

The actual truth is that most of the people who died had not gotten treatment when they should have.  For everyone else who has contracted the flu, their illnesses have been sh0rt-lived and they have recovered.  The trick was early detection and intervention.  It would be nice if the news media could find a nice balance between letting people know they should do something and acting like lunatics.  Unfortunately they usually lean towards lunacy.

The nasty right-winger radio hosts have used the swine flu as an opportunity to spread their hate mongering, lies, and racism.  They blatantly lie, claiming that we’re all going to get sick from Mexicans and we better close our borders further.  It’s disgusting.  Maybe any idiots who believe their bullshit will lock themselves in their homes with a gun and stop wandering the streets. If this happens, I guess in a twisted way the hate mongerers have performed a public service.