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.
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.
A protester outside the Disrupting Democracy event, where the Honduran president had been scheduled to speak.
On Monday, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was expected to appear in San Francisco to talk about his efforts to cede a chunk of his impoverished Central American nation to an international group ofinvestors who want to create an autonomous, self-governing, libertarian paradise. There was one problem, however: His talk was part of a speaker series called Disrupting Democracy, which may be a better venue for someone like Rand Paul than the beneficiary of a military coup who won office using funds allegedly embezzled from the national social security system.
Hernández and his deputies skipped Disrupting Democracy due to "civil unrest," according the event's organizers. On Sunday, 8,000 protesters had marched through the capital city of Tegucigalpa calling for his ouster.
"Before we begin, I would like to apologize for some confused messaging," said panelist Randy Hencken, who directs the Seasteading Institute, which promotes the creation of floating technoutopian nation-states and cosponsored the event. "Here in Silicon Valley, when we want to improve something, we say 'disrupt,'" Hencken continued. "Nobody in Honduras approved or even knew about that whimsical title, which, when translated from English into Spanish, could easily be construed in a negative and unintended light."
At least a dozen anti-Hernández protesters showed up oustide the event, which was held at the South of Market headquarters of Lincoln Labs, a tech incubator cofounded by a former Mitt Romney campaign staffer.
"Nobody in Honduras approved or even knew about that whimsical title, which, when translated from English into Spanish, could easily be construed in a negative and unintended light."
The first Disrupting Democracy event, held in May, featured Paul discussing the growth of "a new generation of voter engagement." Any subject that appeals to both libertarians and techies appears to interest Lincoln Labs, which was founded in 2013 to serve "liberty advocates living in Silicon Valley"—"a forgotten community that felt ostracized with no home." Other Lincoln Labs events include its Reboot conferences and hackathons focusing on the technology of political campaigning.
Everyone at Monday's event seemed to agree that the Honduran scheme, known as Zones for Employment and Economic Development, or ZEDEs, now seemed imperiled—a discouraging turn, given Hernández's close cooperation with antitax crusader Grover Norquist and high-ranking representatives of the libertarian Cato and Hayek Institutes.
Yet the seasteaders were undeterred, even emboldened. If Honduras didn't want to create a Hong-Kong style city on its coast, maybe it would host a floating city in its territorial waters. "That gets rid of complaints of ceding over large portions of land," noted Seasteading Institute member Mike Doty, who had a long gray beard and a pirate-skull-patterned bandanna. "On the Pacific side, there's a large bay there…They've done the engineering studies, the feasibility studies. We're pretty far along."
One thing that can never be disrupted, it seems, is the vision of a technolibertarian.
Around this time last year, Google shocked Silicon Valley by voluntarily releasing statistics on the diversity of its workforce. The move helped shame other large tech companies into doing the same, and the picture that emerged wasn't pretty: In most cases, only 10 percent of the companies' overall employees were black or Latino, compared to 27 percent in the US workforce as a whole. For its own part, Google admitted that "we're miles from where we want to be," and pledged to do more to cultivate minority and female tech talent.
Now Google has an update: Its 2015 diversity stats, released yesterday, show that it has moved inches, not miles, toward a workforce that reflects America. The representation of female techies ticked up by 1 percentage point (from 17 to 18 percent), Asians gained 1 point, and whites, though still the majority, slipped by 1 point. Otherwise, the numbers are unchanged:
"With an organization our size, year-on-year growth and meaningful change is going to take time," Nancy Lee, Google's vice president of people operations, told the Guardian. Last year, Google spent $115 million on diversity initiatives and dispatched its own engineers to historically black colleges and universities to teach introductory computer science courses and help graduating students prepare for job searches. But unlike Intel, another big tech company that has prioritized diversity, Google has not set firm goals for diversifying its talent pool.
"While every company cannot match Intel's ambitious plan, they can set concrete, measurable goals, targets, and timetables," said a statement from the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who last year played a key role in convincing Google and other companies to disclose their diversity stats. "If they don't measure it, they don't mean it."
The Senate over the weekend let lapse some of the most controversial portions of the Patriot Act, including a provision that had been used by the National Security Agency to justify collecting American citizens' phone records en masse. Every day, the NSA receives from US phone companies metadata on billions of domestic calls, including the time the call was placed, its duration, and the originating and receiving numbers (but not the contents of the conversations). Privacy advocates have criticized the program as one of the worst examples of the Patriot Act's overreach, allowing access to potentially revealing information on basically any American citizen.
Although it remains unclear how the lapse of the law might actually play out, the effect of suspending the data collection for even a single day is gigantic in terms of the amount of information at stake. By Monday at midnight, 24 hours after the bulk data provision expired, the NSA would have normally collected metadata on 3 billion phone calls, according to a 2013 estimate by former NSA employees. Consider what would happen if each call log was put into its own line on an Excel spreadsheet:
Entering all of the data would take a single human typist at least 460 years.
Printing out the data would require a 24,000-foot stack of letter-sized paper—the height of 13 World Trade Centers.
The paper would weigh 740,000 pounds, or as much as could be carried by 17 big rigs.
And yet that's just a drop in the bucket compared to the NSA's overall capabilities. The agency can still wiretap overseas communications, not to mention view any domestic internet and call logs that are at least "three hops" from a suspected international terrorist. "You could call the same pizza delivery place as a terrorist and you are only two hops away," explains Ars Technica's Sean Gallagher.
A proposed Patriot Act reform bill now under consideration in Congress, the USA Freedom Act, would retain a "two hops" rule and require the data to be stored by phone companies instead of by the US government. But that may not represent such a major change. "They are going to still be able to go to phone companies and request that data," Gallagher points out. "And they won't necessarily need a warrant to get it."