Political MoJo

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 1, 2014

Tue Jul. 1, 2014 9:49 AM EDT

The USS Rushmore delivers equipment to a base in Hawaii to support Rim of the Pacific, the world's largest maritime exercise. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dustin Knight.)

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The IRS Is Coming For Your Offshore Bank Account

| Tue Jul. 1, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Where corporate America's money went

It's always been a pretty simple arrangement for America's superrich: Park your money in a country whose banks know how to keep a secret and then underreport your assets to the IRS. Without a way to independently verify how much money you have abroad, the taxman had to take your word for how much money you had stashed in a Swiss vault or in a sunny haven like the Cayman Islands. But as of yesterday, the US government will require foreign banks to report their American clients' assets, or face 30 percent tax penalties on some offshore deposits.

The move is part of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which was introduced in 2010. Since then, more than 80 countries have agreed to open their ledger books to the feds. After some complicated last-minute negotiations, even Russia and China have started to cooperate.

Companies and individuals have long used offshore banking to keep their taxes low: Last year, American multinationals kept an estimated $2 trillion (yes, with a "t") abroad, according to a Bloomberg analysis. In recent years, tech companies have become some of the most enthusiastic offshore depositors. Between 2010 and 2013, Microsoft more than doubled its foreign stockpile to $76.4 billion, while Apple increased its pot abroad more than fourfold to $54.4 billion.

But while big US companies have stowed a massive pile of cash abroad, US banks hold even more money for foreign clients. According to Tax Justice Network, a British-based advocacy and research group, out of the $21 to $32 trillion kept offshore globally, about 22 percent is kept in the United States—a fact that's not lost on countries complying with FATCA, some of whom are embracing the law because it means they'll get to learn a few things about their own citizens' holdings in the US.

Here Is the Supreme Court's Decision in the Hobby Lobby Contraception Case

Mon Jun. 30, 2014 10:46 AM EDT

On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. The court ruled that most companies do not have to cover contraception for their employees if the company has a religious objection to doing so. Here is the decision:

 

Read the Supreme Court's Decision in The Blockbuster Labor Case Harris v. Quinn

Mon Jun. 30, 2014 10:13 AM EDT

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 30, 2014

Mon Jun. 30, 2014 9:31 AM EDT

US Marines rappel from a helicopter in a training exercise at sea. (US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Alisa Helin)

Map: These Are the Places Central American Child Migrants Are Fleeing

| Fri Jun. 27, 2014 3:48 PM EDT

A recently produced infographic from the Department of Homeland Security shows that the majority of unaccompanied children coming to the United States are from some of the most violent and impoverished parts of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The map documents the origins of child migrants apprehended by the Border Patrol from January 1 to May 14. It was made public by Adam Isaacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights organization, and it includes the following analysis about the surge in child migrants:

…Many Guatemalan children come from rural areas, indicating that they are probably seeking economic opportunities in the US. Salvadoran and Honduran children, on the other hand, come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the US preferable to remaining at home.

This echoes what I found in my yearlong investigation into the explosion of unaccompanied child migrants arriving to the United States. As I wrote in the July/August issue of Mother Jones:

Although some have traveled from as far away as Sri Lanka and Tanzania, the bulk are minors from Mexico and from Central America's so-called Northern Triangle—Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, which together account for 74 percent of the surge. Long plagued by instability and unrest, these countries have grown especially dangerous in recent years: Honduras imploded following a military coup in 2009 and now has the world's highest murder rate. El Salvador has the second-highest, despite the 2012 gang truce between Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18. Guatemala, new territory for the Zetas cartel, has the fifth-highest murder rate; meanwhile, the cost of tortillas has doubled as corn prices have skyrocketed due to increased American ethanol production (Guatemala imports half of its corn) and the conversion of farmland to sugarcane and oil palm for biofuel.

Below is a more granular look at where kids are coming from, also produced by DHS. San Pedro Sula, the world's most violent city, was home to the largest number of child migrants caught by the Border Patrol (more than 2,500). Honduras' capital, Tegucigalpa, sent the second-most kids, fewer than 1,000.

 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 27, 2014

Fri Jun. 27, 2014 8:59 AM EDT

US Marine Corps recruits go through chemical warfare defense training. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Octavia Davis)

Unions Should Brace Themselves for a Major Supreme Court Loss

| Thu Jun. 26, 2014 1:04 PM EDT

It's official: The Supreme Court will wait until Monday, the final day of the current term, to issue its decision in Harris v. Quinn. As I explained in May, Harris is a blockbuster case that could, in a worst-case scenario, wipe public-employee unions such as SEIU and AFSCME off the map. And the chances of a damaging decision in Harris just increased—here's why.

Heading into Thursday, the Supreme Court had Harris and three other cases left to decide. The justices chose to issue their opinions concerning presidential recess appointments (Noel Canning v. National Labor Relations Board) and so-called buffer zones keeping protesters at a distance from abortion clinics (McCullen v. Coakley). Justice Stephen Breyer, a liberal member of the court, wrote the Canning opinion; Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, took the lead in McCullen.

This makes it more likely that Justice Samuel Alito, who we've yet to hear much from, will write the opinion in Harris, which points to bad news for public-employee unions. "There's almost no question [Justice] Alito has this opinion unless he lost his majority along way," tweets Rick Hasen, a University of California-Irvine law professor. "Anti-union is his signature issue."

Labor officials can only hope Hasen is wrong. Alito is strongly anti-union. In the 2012 case Knox v. SEIU, Alito essentially invited labor's foes to challenge the basic model of public-employee unionism, in which non-union employees can be made to pay dues to a union for bargaining on their behalf, representing them in grievance issues, etc. Harris makes such a challenge; it's what Alito asked for.

Unions like to call those non-member payments "fair share" dues. If it's the union's job, they reason, to represent all members and nonmembers in a unionized workplace, then all those workers should pay their fair share for that representation. Conservatives—and Alito—say fair-share fees violate the First Amendment rights of non-union workers.

The outcome in Harris could cut a number of ways. The Supreme Court could uphold the lower court's decision dismissing the suit—a big union victory. It could strike down fair share fees—the equivalent of Congress passing a national right-to-work bill. (Right-to-work laws ban unions from collecting those fair-share fees from non-members.) Public-employee unions would survive that decision, but it would be a blow. The court could also effectively enact right-to-work nationwide and kneecap a union's ability to exclusively represent employees in a unionized workplace. That would be catastrophic for public-employee unions.

If there's any judge who might go that far, it would be Samuel Alito.

Read the Supreme Court's Decision Striking Down Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones

| Thu Jun. 26, 2014 10:52 AM EDT

Read our explainer of the Court's ruling here.

 

Read the Supreme Court's Decision on Obama's Recess Appointment Power

| Thu Jun. 26, 2014 10:17 AM EDT

On Thursday, the Supreme Court struck a blow to the president's ability to use recess appointments, rejecting his ability to sidestep pro-forma sessions of Congress. Read the court's full opinion below: