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Cayman Island Office Building Home to 9,000 U.S. Tax Cheats

| Thu Jul. 24, 2008 10:43 AM EDT

Corporate America and its wealthy executive class has had it good under the Bush administration. Not only has it benefited from massive tax cuts, but the Bush administration has stood idle as huge numbers of American companies have set up phony headquarters in the Cayman Islands so better to avoid what little taxes they might have to pay in the U.S. According to a GAO report scheduled for release today, since 2002, the number of American entities reporting a Cayman Island bank account has jumped from 2,677 to nearly 8,000. Suspiciously, investigators traced more than 9,000 American entities that had registered in the Caymans to a single office building.

Past estimates have put the loss of revenue from such schemes at $100 billion. The move to off-shore accounts hasn't exactly been a secret. But the administration has simply turned a blind eye to it as the IRS has struggled to enforce the law with limited resources. That may change, however. The Senate Finance Committee is holding a hearing on the issue today to consider whether the IRS ought to get some more money and power to make sure that every U.S. corporation pays its fair share. That should come as welcome news to cash-strapped states, which are now facing a whopping $40 billion collective budget deficit, according to the National Conference of State Legislators, leading to widespread cuts in everything from health care services to Maine's popular fish hatchery program.

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Why Former Addicts Dread Addiction Memoirs

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 9:33 PM EDT

Below is a guest blog entry by MoJo author Maia Szalavitz:

I'm starting to dread reading about addiction. One would imagine that coming up on the 20th anniversary of my own decision to stop using cocaine and heroin that I would either be utterly bored by it or alternatively, entranced with a subject that touches on free will, morality, neuroscience, sociology, psychology and endless politics.

Typically, I engage in the latter obsessions—but when I read media portrayals of addiction like Sunday's front-page New York Times magazine excerpt of the its columnist David Carr's addiction memoir, I cringe.

It's not that I don't have sympathy and compassion for people who struggle with this disorder—how could I not? It's not that I don't recognize that other people will have different perspectives from my own. My problem is that virtually every addiction memoir—whilst strenuously arguing otherwise or, as in this case, self-consciously highlighting the clichés—tells the same story.

Meanwhile, other equally true stories of addiction go untold. And worse, these untold stories actually represent the majority of cases, according to the research data. For example, a large proportion of people who recover from opoid addiction do it using methadone—not abstinence. Ever read a methadone memoir? And most people who quit cocaine addiction do it without treatment or even self-help groups. Ever read that one?

Bush Won't Pardon Marion Jones Because Steroids are Not a Matter of National Security

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 9:25 PM EDT

This spring once track uber-star Marion Jones applied for commutation of her six-month prison sentence, which she is serving for her involvement in the BALCO steroids scandal, for perjuring herself, and for check fraud. Jones, who gave up her five Olympic medals from Sydney in 2000 (three of them gold) has been in jail since March. She applied for the commutation (not a pardon) soon after she started her detention in a Texas slammer, in part because she has an eight-month old son, and because, well, people who do far worse are pardoned all the time.

Scooter Libby, who was convicted on five counts of federal obstruction of justice and perjury charges resulting from the grand jury investigation into the CIA identity leak of Valerie Plame didn't have to serve a day of his 30-month prison term. Bush commuted Cheney's former chief-of-staff's sentence (without Libby even applying for the commutation) calling the sentence "too harsh."

Today the head of the USA Track and Field sent Bush a letter, imploring him not to pardon Jones. "To reduce Ms Jones' sentence or pardon her would send a horrible message to young people who idolized her, reinforcing the notion that you can cheat and be entitled to get away with it." He also said that a commutation or pardon would reinforce the notion that those with "athletic talent, money or fame" enjoy the benefits of a legal double standard.

Double standards in this administration is the standard. Lying and obstructing justice when it comes to a steroids scandal is inexcusable, but lying when it comes to national security is, by action taken, excusable?

Amazing Obama Poster Pays Tribute to Bauhaus Design

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 9:18 PM EDT

mojo-photo-obamaberlin.jpgJeez, I know I've already blubbered endlessly over the sophistication of Obama's graphic design, but you just gotta see this. It's a poster being used to advertise the senator's upcoming speech in Berlin, and it may be the finest piece of contemporary mainstream political art I've ever seen. All text is set at a 45-degree angle on varying shades of Obama Blue, with one thin swath of brick red emphasizing that "Tickets are not needed." Barack's profile is oddly de-emphasized, yet the whole poster seems to be covered in a subtle gradient, creating a definite glow from that side of the page. Some rabble-rousers think that any poster with a profile is Hitler-esque, but the blog Meaningful Distraction more accurately sees the poster as a tribute to classic German modernism, specifically the Bauhaus movement, which, like constructivism, revolutionized graphic design by setting type on diagonals, around corners, and even spirals. Of course, it fits right in with my theory about Obama's design being an example of his post-modern campaign, as much about the references as anything else, but whatever, it looks really cool. See a larger version after the jump.

Top Five: ABBA Songs

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 8:36 PM EDT

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With the release of the new film Mamma Mia!, ABBA fever has returned: the soundtrack, which features the Swedish quartet's songs, has just hit #1 on the U.K. album chart, and the now-classic ABBA Gold just jumped back into the Top 5. While John McCain recently took some heat for admitting to enjoying a little ABBA now and then, I'll happily admit to ABBA-love. Not only am I gay, but I was just becoming aware of popular music during the band's heyday; and, perhaps most importantly, I'm half-Swedish. Ikea, meatballs, Bergman, it's all good. However, my admiration for ABBA is somewhat selective: I've always felt some of their songs were as transcendent as pop music can be, while others were either hyperactive and shrill or maudlin and overdramatic. Everybody's got their favorites, I'm sure, but here are mine.

Country Music: Not Just for White People Anymore

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 6:26 PM EDT

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I caught a free show in San Francisco's Union Square on my lunch break this afternoon—a country singer, with a voice rivaling Patti Loveless and Lucinda Williams. But this girl ain't your standard Nashville crooner: Miko Marks is a Michigan native, current Oakland resident, and the first black country singer that I personally have ever seen.

Though country, like rock n' roll, has its roots in black music, these days the twangy genres are not exactly renowned for their ethnic diversity. But Marks is a rising star, and she's not the only one: Turns out that while the rest of us were drooling over Amy Winehouse, black women have been taking the country world by storm. Other notable names are Rissi Palmer, Sunny Daye, and Vicki Vann. While all three women draw on a variety of musical influences, there's no question that the sound is country.

The country music establishment has started to take notice, as have the chroniclers of black popular culture: Ebony magazine recently profiled Marks as part of a feature entitled, "What Does Black Sound Like?" and more than one blog has applauded the women's foray into an almost-totally white musical sphere.

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Has National Enquirer Taken Edwards out of Veep-Play?

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 5:15 PM EDT

Usually, there's no reason to pay much attention to the scandal news of the National Enquirer. But in a recent report, the mag claims that several of its reporters witnessed and confronted John Edwards at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, where a woman, who months ago was alleged by the magazine to have become pregnant due to an affair with Edwards, was checked in--with her child. (The woman and Edwards initially both denied they were romantically involved.) The latest story is full of firsthand details--Edwards fleeing the Enquirer snoops, hiding in a bathroom, being escorted out by a security detail--that perhaps even the Enquirer would be hesitant to fabricate. After all, it can be sued by either Edwards or the woman.

Blogger Mickey Kaus has complained that the MSM hasn't touched the matter: "Will this be the first presidential-contender level scandal to occur completely in the undernews, without ever being reported in the cautious, respectable MSM?" But it's tough for responsible journalists to figure out how to handle a report from the gutter about a potential vice presidential candidate. Yet whether you read about this matter in the Times or not, the veep-vetters of the Obama campaign have probably paid the story notice. If Edwards is still in contention, he better have for them a rather convincing denial to allay suspicions that this time the scandalmongers of the Enquirer might have actually gotten it right.

Eat Less, Save The World

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 4:27 PM EDT

800px-L%E9gumes_01.jpg Yup, it's that simple. Nineteen percent of total energy used in the US is tied to producing and distributing food. Too much food. Three times more than we actually need.

Cornell researchers suggest we eat less. The average American consumes 3,747 calories a day. That's 1200-1500 calories more than recommended. It's the reason we're fat and unhealthy, while our planet is lean and unhealthy.

The problem is that American diets are larded in animals and in junk food. Both use more energy to produce than healthful staples like potatoes, rice, fruits, and veggies.

By eating less junk and less meat, the average American would have a massive impact on fuel consumption and his/her health.

The authors suggest moving towards more traditional, organic farming methods for meat and dairy. They suggest crop farmers reduce pesticides and use more manure, cover crops, and crop rotations for better energy efficiency.

Changing the way we process, package and distribute food would help too. Although apparently the single most dramatic improvement in energy use would come from you and me consuming less processed foods. On average, American food travels 1,500 miles before it gets eaten.

Try the Modern Commandments: 1) Buy local. 2) Support organic and sustainable farms. (Stop whinging about the price, you're going to buy and eat less.) 3) Eat mindfully and savor every nourishing bite.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

The Dark Knight Turns Out to Be a Dick Cheney Fantasy

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 4:15 PM EDT

mojo-photo-darkknightcheney.jpgI know I just remarked on the proliferation of ridiculous Batman tie-in blog posts, attempting to grab some page views from a populace obsessed with this record-breaking film. But I promise this isn't a cynical grab for your clicks; I'm just pissed off and want to get it off my chest.

I finally got myself into an Imax screening of The Dark Knight yesterday, and sure, it was enjoyable. The extra-large shots of city skylines were impressive, the effects were well done, and Heath Ledger's performance was riveting, if only for the creepy back-of-your-mind sense that embroiling oneself so deeply in such disturbing emotions could easily lead one to dangerous self-medicating. But as the film reached its climactic denouement, I found myself getting more and more perturbed at its underlying message, which seemed straight from the office of the Vice President.

Afterwards, a quick search showed that otherwise-erudite reviews didn't reflect my concerns, with most critics won over by the film's expansion of the superhero genre into deeper, darker territory. But what, exactly, was the message emerging from the darkness? Finally, I Googled "dark knight dick cheney," and I found an article that expressed my feelings exactly: "Batman's Dark Knight Reflects Cheney Policy." You go, Washington Independent:

Iraq Contract Fraud: Senators Call For Arrests, Recovery of Funds

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 3:55 PM EDT

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This morning, the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, heard testimony from Pentagon officials about their efforts to counter waste and fraud in federal contracts related to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Byrd expressed outrage at the "appalling" mismanagement of funds. "Tens of billions of taxpayer dollars are lost, ... gone!" he cried, his outrage visibly building as he spoke. "How many minutes have passed since Jesus Christ was born? A billion! So, that's a lot of money! ... This is a failure of leadership. Individuals think they can get away with bilking—they're not just milking—bilking the U.S. and Iraqi governments... taking bribes, substituting inferior workmanship, or plain, old-fashioned stealing! Stealing!" he exclaimed.

Byrd cited a April 2007 GAO report (.pdf) that concluded, among other things, that the Pentagon "lacks clear and comprehensive guidance and leadership for managing and overseeing contractors" and "does not have a sufficient number of oversight personnel to ensure that contracts that are in place are carried out efficiently and according to contract requirements." To illustrate the scale of the waste and fraud, the report estimates that the Army Material Command loses about $43 million each year solely on the provision of free meals to contractors who also get per diem food allowances. Another GAO report (.pdf), released in May 2007, found that the amount of money obligated in DOD contracts for support services "exceeded the amount the department spent on supplies and equipment, including major weapons systems." [Emphasis added.] And with all this money being spent, often under cost-plus arrangements (the more a contractor spends on expenses, the more it collects in fees), the scale of abuse, fraud, and "plain, old-fashioned stealing" has been historic. We still do not know exactly how much money has been lost, and we may never know. But last year, the Defense Contract Audit Agency identified $4.9 billion wasted on overcharging or fraud, and an additional $5.1 billion spent without any documentation. Since only a sampling of contracts have yet been audited, the murky waters of corruption remain largely undisturbed.