Business Plan

I’ve decided I’m going to start my own corporation to operate in competition with Monsanto. I’m going to hire a bunch of scientists and get them to patent dogs and cats. Then when people try to breed them, I’m going to sue their asses off. Of course this will be after I’ve harassed them and terrified them, taking photos of them out walking the puppies and cuddling the kittens. I’ll have a field day with those idiots who are stupid enough to post a video of themselves on YouTube. How dare these people interfere with my right to own life? I’ll also go after anyone who buys the puppies or kittens unaltered. If they think they are going to let those animals breed without my getting paid for it, they have another thing coming.

Bully Nation

Bully Nation  (Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission)
by By Yale Magrass and Charles Derber, Truthout | Op-Ed

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has appropriately been called a bully. This has implications well beyond Christie. His calling out has the potential to shift the growing public conversation about bullying from a psychological narrative about abusive individuals to a new discourse on institutionalized bullying, carried out by ruling institutions and elites.

The current focus on bullying – like much of the discussion about guns and gun violence – has tended to focus on individuals and mental health. It is a therapeutic narrative. Bullying is seen primarily as a psychological problem of individuals. The victim needs therapy, better communication or adaptation skills. Bullies are characterologically flawed and need therapy or perhaps legal punishment.

But there is little or no discussion of larger social or cultural forces in the United States and the American institutions or leaders who bully other countries or workers and citizens at home. Institutionalized bullying is endemic to a capitalist hegemonic nation like the United States and creates death and suffering on a far greater scale than personal, everyday bullying, as important and toxic as the latter might be.

Moreover, much of the everyday bullying that is the current media focus must be understood as the inevitable consequence of a militarized corporate system that requires a popular mind-set of bullying to produce profit and power. The individual bully is the creation of the bully nation.

The United States openly views itself as the world police force, a benign hegemon morally ordained to impose its interests and values on the rest of the world and justified in the name of freedom, human rights and antiterrorism to do to weaker countries what it wants. It spends more on weapons than its next 20 largest competitors combined. President Obama proclaimed “[S]o long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, we will sustain the strongest military the world has ever known.” To peasants living in small countries in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia – where the United States has sent armed forces, used drones to bomb, and often overthrown the government – polls show that a majority of people see the United States as the greatest threat to their security, and fear it. Hegemony here seamlessly unfolds as morally sanctioned, institutionalized bullying.

America makes heroes of bomber pilots like John McCain and offers them as role models for children and adolescents to emulate. They see the media applaud the bullying behavior of their own government that dispatches police, soldiers, FBI and CIA agents into foreign nations to kill and wreak havoc – from Afghanistan to Somalia to Columbia. If you kill enough, whether in a just war or not, you may win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

If bullying brings esteem to a nation, then surely that is a behavior to strive for. Potential recruits for an aggressive military need to be immunized against scruples over violence and bullying. This becomes an implicit part of their education, whether or not it is ever publicly admitted. Accordingly, schools and adult authorities often turn a blind eye toward bullying. After two world wars, the Army lamented that a majority of combat soldiers never fired a weapon. They called for a change in the training of soldiers and the education and upbringing of children to correct that. By that measure, they have been successful. In Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, the majority of combat soldiers killed.

Sports has played a vital part in preparing children for institutionalized aggression, bullying and combat. In football, the goal is to attack the opponent and knock them down, a hard hit that keeps the opponent dazed on the ground is sometimes encouraged by coaches and cheered by the crowd. In schools and campuses, the athletes are often the popular heroes and also the bullies, involved too often in sexual violence or drinking binges in bars that lead to fights or crimes.

Only recently would they expect sanctions against bullying. Indeed, the more they bullied, the more popular they would be. Even before World War I, President Theodore Roosevelt insisted that elite universities like Harvard would have to enhance their football teams if America were to dominate the world. He declared: “We cannot afford to turn out college men who shrink from physical effort or a little physical pain.” For the nation needed men with “the courage that will fight valiantly against the foes of the soul and the foes of the body.”

The aggression and competitiveness of bullying pervades civilian life as well as military. As the beacon for the rest of the world to emulate, the culture the United States wishes to export is capitalism. Capitalism’s staunchest defenders proclaim competition to be its fundamental operating principle. The monopolistic corporations and the wealthiest 1% have been the most aggressive, bullying anyone who stood in their way by outsourcing their jobs, lowering wages, stripping away benefits and firing those seeking to organize unions.

The bully demonizes their victim. In American capitalism, elites have long defined the losers in the competitive struggle with the words used by Mitt Romney to defame the 47%: undeserving “moochers.” They are weak and lazy and don’t have the stuff to prevail. As victims, they deserve their fate and must submit to the triumphant. Those, like the wolves on Wall Street who bully their way to the top, should be there; those who couldn’t or don’t, belong where they are.

Bullying is the means through which the corporate empires were built. Carnegie and Rockefeller intimidated and threatened their rival capitalists to cede them an ever-larger share of the market. They brought in Pinkerton goons to beat striking workers into submission. Workers were forced to either sign “yellow dog” contracts and pledge not to join unions, or be thrown into the street. Similar bullying practices continue today. Corporations warn entire communities they will shut down factories and undermine the local economy if they do not accept low wages and minimal regulations. Banks entice consumers to borrow through predatory loans and then raise interest rates and threaten foreclosure. The corporations are clear they have the power and will not tolerate challenges from weaklings who fail to know their place.

Bullying enhances the ideology that the strong are strong and the weak are weak, and each deserves to be where they are. This attitude pervades America’s culture, government, military, corporations, media, schools, entertainment, athletics and everyday life. The first step to a solution is shifting the conversation to institutional bullying, moving beyond simply a therapeutic narrative to a political one aiming toward transformative social change. As long as the United States embraces militarism and aggressive capitalism, systemic bullying and all its impacts – abroad and at home – will persist as a major crisis.

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.

Safety is a Straw Man

This article has been published on Huffington Post. See it here.

I’ve read multiple articles since the shootings last week, both in my hometown and the deadly assault on school children in Connecticut. I’ve read a sadly moving article on mental health, articles on angry young men, articles on angry white men, articles on angry men of every color, articles on why the second amendment allows us to bear arms, and articles on why it doesn’t.  I’ve read articles lamenting the deaths of children overseas because of US military violence, crying out against the hypocrisy of the president’s tears for US children, while seemingly ignoring those of the countries we invade. It seems all I have done this entire weekend is read about this tragedy, its victims, its causes, and why these tragedies continue.

Nowhere in any of it have I seen anyone addressing the issue of profits. Every time a mass shooting takes place, gun manufacturers make a massive profit. Citizens, afraid for their lives, go out and buy a glock. The point of the gun lobby is not to ensure that every person in the US has a gun; it’s to ensure that every person in the US buys a gun (or two, or three…).  This is the real reason we haven’t been able to succeed at gun control in this country. The gun lobby pours massive amounts into ensuring their right to sell weapons is completely unfettered. In this, they have succeeded more than any manufacturer of any other product.

It’s about profits above lives, whether it’s healthcare or guns. Guns just result in deaths faster. The second amendment is a straw man. It’s the excuse used by the gun lobby to keep us from reining in the massive profits enjoyed by gun and weapon manufacturers and to keep our eyes off the ball, which is that the manufacture of these products has only one purpose: to make money. If it is children in the line of fire, so be it. Gun manufacturers make a killing (pun intended) every time a mass shooting takes place.

If we want real gun control, we need to face the reality that it is profits over lives we are discussing here. Safety is a straw man. The gun lobby doesn’t want teachers carrying guns to protect their classes. Just imagine the budget for arming schools. That’s the real issue. It’s time to start calling a spade a spade, and make lives our priorities, instead of the almighty dollar.

I am a writer and bankruptcy attorney living Portland, Oregon.

Pure Med Spa/Brite Smile

Something weird has happened. Maybe it isn’t weird. Maybe it’s normal. I don’t know. In any case, it used to be if you searched the internet for Pure Med Spa, Brite Smile, et al, my blog would come up and people could see the number of people harmed by this company. There are hundreds of comments on my posts from people who have been robbed or injured by them. Now you search these terms and my blog doesn’t show. In fact, it brings up all the current locations where these thieves are still operating. Want a burned face? How about some severe skin damage on your legs? Better yet, how about having a lot of your money stolen? If you do, head on down to your local Pure Med Spa/Brite Smile,GRF Medspa et al. Free pain and stealing awaits you!

To see those previous posts that have virtually disappeared, here are the links:

You Be Sorry You Mess with Me, Pure Med Spa!

Let’s Eliminate Pure Med Spa

Good Riddance, Pure Med Spa!

Pure Med Spa Again

Pure Med Spa, Brite Smile, Crooks All

Order By Bankruptcy Court for Pure Med Spa

Pure Med Spa/Brite Smile is Now Pinnacle

I Hope We Get You, Pure Med Spa, Brite Smile, et al

Groupon Does Business with Pure Med Spa

Lobbyists, Guns and Money — by Paul Krugman

This is an article by Paul Krugman from the NY Times.  It can be seen here.  Please read and share.  Groups like ALEC are ruining our country. Their power and influence must be stopped.

Lobbyists, Guns and Money

By 

Florida’s now-infamous Stand Your Ground law, which lets you shoot someone you consider threatening without facing arrest, let alone prosecution, sounds crazy — and it is. And it’s tempting to dismiss this law as the work of ignorant yahoos. But similar laws have been pushed across the nation, not by ignorant yahoos but by big corporations.

Specifically, language virtually identical to Florida’s law is featured in a template supplied to legislators in other states by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed organization that has managed to keep a low profile even as it exerts vast influence (only recently, thanks to yeoman work by the Center for Media and Democracy, has a clear picture of ALEC’s activities emerged). And if there is any silver lining to Trayvon Martin’s killing, it is that it might finally place a spotlight on what ALEC is doing to our society — and our democracy.

What is ALEC? Despite claims that it’s nonpartisan, it’s very much a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on. Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn’t just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted bills to state legislators. In Virginia, for example, more than 50 ALEC-written bills have been introduced, many almost word for word. And these bills often become law.

Many ALEC-drafted bills pursue standard conservative goals: union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. ALEC seems, however, to have a special interest in privatization — that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations. And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatization, such as the online education company K12 Inc. and the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization.

What this tells us, in turn, is that ALEC’s claim to stand for limited government and free markets is deeply misleading. To a large extent the organization seeks not limited government but privatized government, in which corporations get their profits from taxpayer dollars, dollars steered their way by friendly politicians. In short, ALEC isn’t so much about promoting free markets as it is about expanding crony capitalism.

And in case you were wondering, no, the kind of privatization ALEC promotes isn’t in the public interest; instead of success stories, what we’re getting is a series of scandals. Private charter schools, for example, appear to deliver a lot of profits but little in the way of educational achievement.

But where does the encouragement of vigilante (in)justice fit into this picture? In part it’s the same old story — the long-standing exploitation of public fears, especially those associated with racial tension, to promote a pro-corporate, pro-wealthy agenda. It’s neither an accident nor a surprise that the National Rifle Association and ALEC have been close allies all along.

And ALEC, even more than other movement-conservative organizations, is clearly playing a long game. Its legislative templates aren’t just about generating immediate benefits to the organization’s corporate sponsors; they’re about creating a political climate that will favor even more corporation-friendly legislation in the future.

Did I mention that ALEC has played a key role in promoting bills that make it hard for the poor and ethnic minorities to vote?

Yet that’s not all; you have to think about the interests of the penal-industrial complex — prison operators, bail-bond companies and more. (The American Bail Coalition has publicly described ALEC as its “life preserver.”) This complex has a financial stake in anything that sends more people into the courts and the prisons, whether it’s exaggerated fear of racial minorities or Arizona’s draconian immigration law, a law that followed an ALEC template almost verbatim.

Think about that: we seem to be turning into a country where crony capitalism doesn’t just waste taxpayer money but warps criminal justice, in which growing incarceration reflects not the need to protect law-abiding citizens but the profits corporations can reap from a larger prison population.

Now, ALEC isn’t single-handedly responsible for the corporatization of our political life; its influence is as much a symptom as a cause. But shining a light on ALEC and its supporters — a roster that includes many companies, from AT&T and Coca-Cola to UPS, that have so far managed to avoid being publicly associated with the hard-right agenda — is one good way to highlight what’s going on. And that kind of knowledge is what we need to start taking our country back.

Century Link is Still Qwest and Still Shit

A little over a week before moving into my new house, I called the power company to set up service with them.  They offered to help me “explore my options” with different internet companies.  Because I am not thrilled with Comcast as a company, I decided to explore these options.  The person who helped me claimed I could get a better deal with Century Link.  I was skeptical.

Several years ago, over a series of months, I wasted more hours than I care to count on the phone with Qwest discussing the multiple issues I had with their DSL service.  Ultimately an electrician from their company got me a huge refund for several months’ worth of service I did not receive because the wiring to my house had been so old it wasn’t capable of managing the service I was supposed to have.

When Mr. Power Company Helper Guy urged me to switch, I was more than reluctant.  However, he assured me that more had changed than the name, and that I could get blazing fast internet for about $20 less a month than I was paying Telecommunication Monopoly, I mean Comcast.  I went ahead and signed up. However, Mr. Helper then transferred me to someone at Century Link to set up my account who read a disclaimer about the speeds, and I began to have buyer’s remorse nearly immediately.  The speeds quoted were apparently only the fastest possible, and not likely what I would get.  Oh great.  Here we go again.

After I got off the phone I called Comcast and without explaining why I wondered, asked what speeds my price was supposed to be getting me. They were over double the Century Link speeds.  The guy then set me up with a better plan and even faster speeds. The Century Link deal didn’t even come close.  I then called back the power company and explained I wanted to cancel the order.  They said it was too new and to call in the next day.  The next day I called back and was assured the order was cancelled, but the person said I should call Century Link to confirm, which I did. They said the order wasn’t even there yet, but the guy made a note for my address.  I called again a couple of days later just to make sure.  The person who answered said there was no account and that it must never have been set up.  He assured me that there was no chance I would get the service I did not want.  Still skeptical, but okay, if you say so.

The following weekend we moved into the house.  On Monday I went to work.  When I arrived home in the late afternoon, there was a package on my stoop.  Curious, I ran up to grab it before pulling into the garage.  What do you think it was?  Surprise!  A modem from Century Link.  Damn.  Not only do I already have a modem that is just great thanks, but there wasn’t supposed to be any Century Link anything in my life.

Back to the phone.  Back to holds and voice activated services that couldn’t figure out where I needed to be.  Finally a person who was able to give me a return authorization number and his assurances that the account was closed, there would be no residual expense, and that my time with Qwest, aka Century Link was over.  Satisfied, I believed him.  Fool I be.

A week and a half later, a thin envelope arrived bearing a bill for $34.95.  I didn’t even bother calling the louts at Century Link.  I wrote a short note on the bill stating that I had cancelled my service prior to installation and that there should be no charges.  I mostly believed that the bill issuance had crossed paths with the modem return.

Wrong again.  Today’s mail bore an even thinner, more demanding insistence that I pay Century Link, this time $19.99.  I put on my boxing gloves and called in.  I could not explain to the telephone computer person my reasons for calling in a manner that satisfied.  It finally transferred me to the wrong person, for whom I had to wait ten minutes, and that person had to transfer me to the right person. They may not have programmed in “Your fucking stupid company keeps billing me for shit I don’t want, you lousy corporate, monopolistic bastards.” but that was the line that finally did result in a human, so I suppose it worked.

Once I reached a human who could assist, I explained my situation.  He asked the usual litany of questions designed to prove I am me, then wanted to take a few minutes and “review the account.” Sure, I’ve been on hold for 20 minutes, what’s a few more?  He said the bill was for installation, then let me know he would do what he could to see about getting me a credit.  A credit?  No, sir. A credit will not do.  I cancelled your service before it was ever installed.  I don’t want a credit.  I want the charges gone, understand?  He said I needed to be patient.  I explained that I was thoroughly out of patience.  That I lost patience the day I came home to a modem and hours of holds and transfers.  That his employer had stolen time I could be spending with my children, walking the dog, doing my job, washing the dishes, anything except wasting hours on the phone with a bunch of incompetent hacks who couldn’t seem to get this right.  And that I would never pay them one penny of my money ever, especially considering all of the experiences I had suffered at the hands of their incompetence.  He was silent, then he said I needed to trust him.  I said I would try, but his coworkers had not instilled much trust.  He said the difference was that when he said he did something, he really did it.  I hope so.

I did not mail back the second bill. I’m hoping the phone calls suffice. We will see. In the meantime, I thought I would use this opportunity to warn every and all that Century Link is still Qwest, albeit with a brand new name, and that like Ally nee’ GMAC, and Springleaf nee’ American General Finance (see my observations about this here), they are still they same crappy monopolistic corporation, the same customer no-service, the same mess up even the most simple of requests, the same stay-on-hold-for-800-years, the same transfer to 13 departments before getting someone who may or may not fix your issue piece of shit company they have always been. Changing the name didn’t change anything except a few letters.

Rant over.