Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

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Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment. PGP public key.

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This Extremist Group Vows to Picket the Charleston Funerals. Anonymous Vows to Stop Them.

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 4:43 PM EDT

Westboro Baptist Church, the notorious group of religious extremists that is basically just one family, has said it will attempt to picket the funerals of people killed in the Charleston shootings. In recent tweets, Westboro has suggested the shooting was God's punishment for late pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pickney's having supported Hillary Clinton.

Protesting at funerals is a tactic the group has also tried (unsuccessfully) at burial services following other mass killings, including for victims of the Tucson shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing. But before the Kansas-based hate group can wave its familiar "God Sent the Shooter" signs for the TV cameras, it may have to overcome opposition from the hactivist group Anonymous.

"While it is doubtful these idiots will show up, it is critical that Anonymous have a well-prepared presence on the ground in Charleston," the group said in a press release announcing "Operation Shut Down Westboro Baptist Church." Coordinated by the Anonymous faction Operation Ferguson, which got its start with the Black Lives Matter protests, the effort will reportedly involve surrounding the Westboro protesters and blocking their signs.

Anonymous has periodically targeted Westboro since around 2011, when it hacked the group's website during a televised media interview. The following year, Anonymous helped block Westboro protesters who had shown up at the funeral of a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. In 2013, Anonymous garnered significant media attention when it "brandjacked" Westboro, creating a fake Facebook site for the group.

So far this week, Operation Ferguson has tweeted out links to personal information of Westboro members. One Anon also posted what could be construed as death threats against members of the church, though he has often drawn rebukes from other members of Anonymous, which tends to disavow violence.

On Tuesday, the Charleston City Council passed a temporary ordinance restricting all protests to at least 300 feet away from funerals.

Marijuana Research Just Got a Green Light From the Obama White House

The administration lifts a longstanding restriction on studying pot for medicinal use.

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 3:25 PM EDT

The White House today lifted a longstanding restriction on medical marijuana research, giving a green light to a growing group of mainstream scientists who are interested in investigating the potential health benefits of pot. Such research will no longer have to undergo review by the Public Health Service, a process that is ostensibly meant to ensure the use of scientifically valid clinical trials, but in practice has served as a barrier to launching studies. A bipartisan group of lawmakers, and even opponents of legalization, had called for the requirement to be lifted.

"This announcement is a pretty big deal," says Christopher Brown, a spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, a group that advocates for access to pot for medical research. "You have a lot of interest in experimental research on medical cannabis and this shows that you are starting to see policies aligned with that."

The announcement comes a few months after US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy signaled the federal government's shifting thinking on medical pot, telling CBS This Morning that preliminary data shows that "marijuana can be helpful" for some medical conditions.

Still, Americans for Safe Access is calling for the feds to loosen restrictions even more. Numerous startup companies are interested in capitalizing on the medical benefits of pot, but scientists who want to use marijuana for research currently must obtain it from a DEA-approved grow facility, a process that can take a year or longer if they need specific cannabis strains. And marijuana remains classified under Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, a category reserved for drugs that supposedly have no medical benefit.

Walmart Uses 22 Shell Companies to Hide an Incredible Amount of Money in Luxembourg

The European tax haven hosts no Walmart stores but helps the retailer avoid major US taxes.

| Wed Jun. 17, 2015 5:04 PM EDT

Overseas tax evasion by American corporations has become a political hot button of late: It haunted Mitt Romney in 2012, spurred President Barack Obama last year to crack down on so-called inversions, and has since been seized upon as a 2016 campaign issue by Hillary Clinton. American companies now have an estimated $2.1 trillion in untaxed profits stashed overseas, big sums of which belong to Apple, General Electric, and Microsoft.

Walmart is also a major overseas tax dodger, according to a new report from Americans for Tax Fairness, a liberal-leaning think tank and advocacy group. The world's largest retailer has stashed $64 billion worth of assets in Luxembourg, Europe's smallest and most notorious tax haven. These assets—including cash and the ownership of real estate holdings around the world—are worth more than Luxembourg's entire gross domestic product. If they were liquidated and sprinkled around, it would amount to more than $100,000 per acre in this tiny country of 1,000 square miles that lacks a single Walmart store. Walmart has so much wealth in Luxembourg, in fact, that it could pay several times over to plaster the entire country in Nexus Granite Self-Adhesive Vinyl Floor Tiles, which sell at Walmart for $8.99 per box.

Since 2011, Walmart has transferred more than $45 billion in assets to a network of 22 shell companies in Luxembourg, the report says.

In fact, most Luxembourgers can afford flooring that's considerably more posh. A primary source of the luxe in this city-state of some 500,000 people is its corporate tax rate. Between 2010 and 2013, Walmart reported paying less than 1 percent in tax to Luxembourg on $1.3 billion in profits. Walmart also generates $1.5 billion worth of tax deductions in Luxembourg each year by making "phantom interest payments" to its home office in the United States, according to Americans for Tax Fairness. These benefits may explain why, since 2011, Walmart has transferred more than $45 billion in assets to a network of 22 shell companies in Luxembourg, the report says.

Walmart disputed the report's findings: "This is the same union-supported group that regularly issues flawed reports on Walmart to promote their agenda rather than the facts," the company said in a statement to USA Today. "This latest report includes incomplete, erroneous information designed to mislead readers." But the retailing giant did not go into any further detail.

UPDATE 6:00 p.m. PST: In an email to Mother Jones, a Walmart representative detailed the company's objections to the report:

When calculating total assets, this calculation incorrectly includes intercompany assets, primarily investment in our wholly-owned subsidiaries and intercompany loans which both eliminate on consolidation.  The methodology is flawed and based upon statutory reports prior to intercompany eliminations which occur during consolidation.

As disclosed in our last form 10K (footnote 14), the Walmart International segment has total assets after intercompany eliminations of $80.5 billion, the vast majority of which are retail store buildings, fixtures, inventory and distribution facilities physically located in the countries where we serve customers.

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