Earlier today, the pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Allergan announced a merger worth $160 billion. There's a wrinkle to this deal between the makers of Viagra and Botox: It's being facilitated by a controversial tax trick known as an inversion, which lets American companies move their headquarters abroad, avoiding the IRS while keeping executives stateside. If it goes through, the Pfizer-Allergan agreement will be the largest tax inversion ever.
Hillary Clinton has already criticized the pharma deal and has called for "cracking down on inversions that erode our tax base." In the past, President Barack Obama has slammed inversions as unpatriotic. His administration and congressional Democrats estimate that tax inversions will result in nearly $20 billion in lost taxes through 2024.
Inversions have been around since the early '80s, when a tax lawyer masterminded a move known as the "Panama Scoot". Since then, more than 100 companies have renounced their American citizenship. Here's where they went:
And inversions are just one of many ways US companies stash earnings abroad. Between 2008 and 2013, American firms had more than $2.1 trillion in profits held overseas—that's as much as $500 billion in unpaid taxes.
A new survey of gun owners finds widespread support for universal background checks and provides new details on who does and doesn't support the National Rifle Association. The survey, conducted by Public Policy Polling on behalf of the Center for American Progress and MoveOn.org Civic Action, will bolster claims that the NRA doesn't represent the views of most American gun owners. Yet it also shows the depth of the NRA's support among its members as well as Republicans, suggesting that taking on the NRA, as Democratic presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley are doing, is good partisan politics.
Echoing earlier surveys, this survey finds that the vast majority of gun owners support expanding criminal background checks to cover all firearm purchases. (Currently, federal law does not require background checks for private gun sales.) Among the gun owners surveyed, 83 percent said they support universal background checks. And 72 percent of NRA members say they do.
More than 40 percent of gun owners say they are Republicans; about one-third are Democrats. (The rest are independents.) Support for universal background checks is strongest among Democrats.
Support for universal background checks is strong across racial and ethnic lines. Yet there is greater opposition to them among African American gun owners and minorities lumped into the "other" category.
The survey also asked gun owners how they feel about requirements that gun owners must obtain permits to carry concealed weapons in public. Overall, about three-quarters said they supported these laws, which have been challenged in California and other states.
Nearly a quarter of the gun owners who responded to the survey said they belong to the NRA. (This suggests that NRA members may be overrepresented in this sample. The group currently claims more than 5 million members. Considering that one-third of adults report owning a gun, there are more than 75 million gun owners in the United States. That puts NRA members at less than 10 percent of all gun owners.)
NRA membership is uncommon among Democrats, with just 8 percent saying they belong to the group. The survey also finds that NRA membership is lowest among African American gun owners, with 12 percent saying they're members. In comparison, 35 percent of Latino and 25 percent of white gun owners say they are part of the group.
In a new interview with Rolling Stone, Bernie Sanders comments that "the NRA does not necessarily represent the views of gun owners, in general, and even their own members." He's half right. According to the survey, a slim majority of all gun owners say the NRA does not represent their interests. However, even though 55 percent of NRA members say they disagree with the NRA's stance against background checks, 86 percent say the group still represents them. Among non-NRA members, just 40 percent say it does.
The perception of the NRA also splits along party lines. Just 25 percent of Democratic gun owners say it represents their views, while 76 percent of Republicans—who make up the bulk of NRA members—say it does. And the group's standing among independents is almost evenly split. This breakdown hints that attacking the NRA is probably a winner for Democratic candidates who might fear alienating gun owners in their own party. Nearly 90 percent of Democrats said they'd be more likely to support a candidate who's in favor of universal background checks, which may help explain why the Democratic presidential contenders have seized on this issue. But will it play with swing voters? It might: More than half of politically independent gun owners say they'd be more likely to support a candidate who's in favor of expanded background checks.
This morning, the New York Times Magazinetweeted the results of a survey of readers who were asked if they could bring themselves to kill the baby Adolf Hitler. Forty-two percent said they could off the future Führer, 30 percent declined, and 28 percent said they were unsure.
Rosenfeld, who is not on Twitter, was blissfully unaware of the latest baby Hitler hubbub. But he kindly agreed to talk about why we never get sick of Hitler assassination fantasies and why Nazi references keep popping up in our political discussions.
Mother Jones: When did people start floating this hypothetical idea of, "Hey, if only we could go back in time and kill Hitler, everything would be different"?
Gavriel Rosenfeld: Of course, the notion of killing Hitler and improving history goes back to World War II itself. The idea of going back in time and killing Hitler as a baby is less frequently explored than exploring the possibility of whether Hitler had been assassinated successfully in real life. But what's interesting is that when you get into the post-war period, many of the narratives in books and movies conclude that if you killed Hitler, you're actually going to make history worse. So I'm surprised that 42 percent [in the Times Magazine survey] said they would kill Hitler as a baby. Of the 58 who said they wouldn't do it, maybe they realize they wouldn't make history better or they're just ethically opposed to killing babies. And these are all Americans?
MJ: I don't know, but I assume they are. They didn't release any demographic info.
GR: The answers that you get to this question vary quite a bit by nation. British and Americans almost always say that you would make history worse, while German respondents are far and away inclined to say, of course, if you get rid of Hitler you make everything better. And the reason is that the Germans tend to like to blame the Nazi experience on one man who can be scapegoated. If you pile all the blame onto him, you exonerate the German masses from any responsibility. Whereas Americans and British respondents don't want to let the German people off the hook. They make the case that if you get rid of Hitler, some other leader apart from Hitler would have emerged and, because of the structural constant of German nationalism, would have exploited German national feeling and produce the same kind of events no matter what.
Originally the premise of killing Hitler was fueled by deep traumatic feelings of wishing and fantasizing that if only things had been different, we could have spared ourselves all kinds of suffering. More recently it's been turned into a comedic trope. As we go forward, tragedy plus time equals comedy, and that is what we're seeing now.
MJ: In The World Hitler Never Made, you wrote about several books and shows that dealt with the scenario of killing baby Hitler. Do you have a favorite?
GR: My favorite, I suppose, is the British comedian and writer Stephen Fry's novel Making History. It's about a grad student in Cambridge who decides not so much to murder Hitler but to prevent him from being born by sending, though a time machine, some birth control pills to the well where his mother was fetching water. By that process, his father, Alois Hitler, becomes sterile and Hitler is never born. That leads to a worse Nazi dictator emerging, a fictional guy named Rudolf Gloder. He's much more rational than Hitler and he gets nuclear weapons and wreaks havoc around the world. He defeats the Soviet Union so there is no Cold War, but there is a cold war between the US and Nazi Germany. The irony is that the grad student then has to go back in time to make sure Hitler is born.
GR: We are in a "what if?" moment. In times of uncertainty, we tend to move away from deterministic world views. And when we try to find moral footing for our actions, we compare ourselves to the foil of all foils, the Nazi period. It's a quest for moral certainty by saying, "Even if we're not doing great these days, at least we're not the Third Reich." Which can be consoling or alarmist. There's always a present-day agenda behind it.
MJ: As a historian, do you see any good coming from these counterfactuals? Do they result in more people learning the history?
GR: I feel mixed about it. It's the same as climate change deniers who force scientists to waste their time having to refute nonsensical ideas. On the other hand, it does bring to public attention things that people might not understand. Counterfactual claims make awesome headlines. The first step to get people interested in history is to wonder how things could have been different. Most people experience history as one damn fact after another in high school. But if you can wonder, "Wow, what if the US hadn't gotten involved in World War II?", you can become enthralled by the imaginary possibilities. Maybe that's a way of getting the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. And it's why Hitler has become a meme. If you're a website and you want to get attention, you can Hiterlize anything.
MJ: So if you could go back in time and kill baby Hitler, would you?
GR: I would be very tempted, but I wouldn't have been born if World War II had never happened, which was caused by Adolf Hitler. My mother emigrated from Eastern Europe to America as a result of World War II. So for personal reasons, I would be a little hesitant. But far more broadly, what I have learned from studying counterfactual history is that the law of unintended consequences always kicks in no matter how secure you are in your plan. We have to live with the historical record as it is, like it or not.
Bottoms up: Would-be NIH head Michael Savage advises using "good quality coffee" in your coffee enemas.
Three days ago, Donald Trump called in to Michael Savage's radio show for a 12-minute lovefest. As the chat wrapped up, Savage made a modest proposal to The Donald:
When you become president, I want you to consider appointing me to head of the NIH. I will make sure that America has real science and real medicine again in this country because I know the corruption. I know how to clean it up and I know how to make real research work again.
"I think that's great," Trump responded to the right-wing talk radio fixture. "Well, you know you'd get common sense if that were the case, that I can tell you, because I hear so much about the NIH, and it's terrible."
So what are Savage's qualifications to head the nation's premier biomedical research organization, which oversees $30 billion worth of medical research annually?
As he is fond of reminding his listeners, Savage does have some scientific credentials. He grew up revering Charles Darwin, got a biology degree and a master's in medical anthropology, and then earned a doctorate in nutritional ethnomedicine from the University of California-Berkeley. In the 1970s, he took several trips to the South Pacific to study medicinal herbs and soak up "ethnic wisdom." (Along the way, he is said to have skinny dipped with Allen Ginsberg in Fiji.) He published dozens of books on herbs, plants, and health under his real name, Michael Weiner.
As I discovered when I perused his body of work while profiling him, some of his writings veered into serious woo territory:
In The Way of the Skeptical Nutritionist, he ventured that a person's ideal diet should be determined by his or her ethnicity. Getting Off Cocaine: 30 Days to Freedom promised blow addicts "an alternative plan for getting 'high'—legally and naturally!" The treatment involved ingesting a daily cocktail of Sudafed, vitamins C and E, and amino acids, as well as self-administering the occasional coffee enema. "Use a good quality coffee," Weiner advised. "Not decaffeinated or instant."
In his 1986 book, Maximum Immunity, Savage insisted on mandatory nationwide AIDS testing and suggested that vitamin C might stop the disease. He said that gays should "accept the blame" for the spread of AIDS and sneered that "those who practice orgiastic sex, with many partners, and use street drugs are not likely to respond to reason."
Beyond that, Savage has boasted of a serious academic résumé, including affiliations with Harvard, the University of California-Santa Cruz, and the University of Heath Sciences at Chicago Medical School. He's also claimed to have conducted "important research" for the NIH's National Cancer Institute.
Ever since he changed his name and hit the airwaves in the early 2000s, Savage has moved on from his days as a "World Famous Herbal Expert." But his biggest breakouts from the AM-radio echo chamber have involved his comments on science, medicine, and infectious disease. In 2008, he said nearly every autistic kid was "a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out" and said "there is no definitive medical diagnosis for autism." (The NIH, which sponsors autism research, has a definition here.) Earlier, in 2003, the would-be NIH director told a caller to "get AIDS and die" and was promptly canned by MSNBC, which had just given him his own cable program. One of the NIH's main goals is to make sure people don't get AIDS and die.
Mess: One Man's Struggle to Clean Up His House and His Act
By Barry Yourgrau
After a me-or-the-mess ultimatum from his girlfriend, Barry Yourgrau reluctantly tackles his cluttered apartment, sorting through treasures, trash, and our messy relationship with accumulation. As part of what he comes to call his Project, he shadows "Disaster Masters" as they empty a hoarder's stash and navigates the "goat paths" of a British man's "hoarding Valhalla." Yourgrau, best known for his surreal fiction, comes to understand why it can be so absurdly hard to break free of the "intimate pull of objects."