Tuesday, April 19, 2016

US Counterinsurgency Policing Tactics Ravage Honduras

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Honduran media is ablaze with the latest in the constant stream of police corruption crises.
This time the Honduran newspaper El Heraldo published a leaked police investigation into the November 2009 murder of the chief of the anti-narcotics unit Julian Aristides Gonzales, and the related December 2011 murder of his advisor, Alfredo Landaverde.
The investigation indisputably shows that high level police commanders planned, and police officers carried out, the assassinations. The public is not surprised: this was common knowledge and is just the latest scandal involving top level police commanders in murder and organized crime.
In scandal after scandal, all that seems to change are the acronyms. This time ski mask clad agents from the one-year-old new unit of the Public Prosecutor's Office, the Criminal Investigation Technical Agency (ATIC), swooped in to take the files on 136 investigations from the archives of the Directorate for Investigation and Evaluation of Police Careers (DIECP), amid calls to shut down the DIECP. The DIECP was created in 2011 to replace the Direction of Internal Affairs of the National Police after the October 2011 murder of the son of the rector of the national university, Julieta Castellanos, by police officers.
Each scandal spurs the reconfiguration of police, the public prosecutor's office, and military security agencies, but the pattern of criminal activity by the police continues. Three days after the scandal broke, on April 7, President Juan Orlando Hernandez presented a law giving his administration the capacity to fire police officers at will with no formal process. The same measure had been taken in 2012 in the wake of the Castellanos police murder scandal. While press reported hundreds of police officers fired, the reality was that it was just a handful, and the credibility of the whole process fell apart when the man with the power to fire at will, then director of the national police Juan Carlos Bonilla, was accused of sending gang members to kidnap the son of a former National Police Director. Police reforms look like nothing more than redistributing power between organized crime networks.
The question this latest scandal provoked was: why now? The leaked report is seven years old. Renowned police reform advocate Maria Luisa Borjas commented that she believed the US Embassy had leaked the reports to open up the political space for another reconfiguration of security forces. Others comment that the crisis helps distract from the ongoing international outrage over the March 2, 2016, murder of indigenous rights activist Berta Caceres.
On April 5 President Hernandez stated that the National Police could be eliminated, provoking concern that the April 7 law facilitating the dismissal of police officers was the first step in a process intended to disband the National Police and replace it with the Military Police for Public Order (PMOP).
In January, the Security Ministry had announced it intended to give a renewed push to police reform, promoting a military-civilian joint task force, the Interinstitutional Security Force (FUSINA), and along with it promote the principal forces that participate in FUSINA, including the controversial PMOP which began operation in April 2014, and the TIGRES elite police unit that began operation in June 2014, along with the 2015 agencies of ATIC and the Directorate of Police Intelligence, likely in reference to its dependency, the Strategic Information Collection, Collation, Analysis and Archiving System, SERCAA.
In May 2015 the US Embassy announced FUSINA received training from the US Marines. While the US State Department has maintained that the controversial PMOP does not receive US training, on the ground reports claim it does, and given that PMOP forms part of FUSINA, the Marine training of FUSINA would seem to lend credence to local sources. In April 2015 it was announced that 300 specialists were arriving in Honduras to train FUSINA, including FBI agents.
ATIC's public profile is quickly growing. In addition to the DIECP raids, along with its twin National Police intelligence agency SERCAA, it is leading the investigation into Berta Caceres' murder. Both are known for their close relationship to the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa, and Department of Justice advisors accompany the agencies in their investigations.
TIGRES, PMOP, ATIC, SERCAA are all elements of a counterinsurgency policing model the US implemented in Iraq and Afghanistan and is trying to apply to Central America. The problem is there is no insurgency, and the criminal networks that run the state make Indigenous and campesinos who defend land and resource rights into enemies of the state.
Even the scandal following Berta Caceres' murder has built up the figure of ATIC and SERCAA, as the State Department prioritizes making space for this as its newest project, over lending support to her family and her organization COPINH's demands that the Honduran government allow the Inter American Commission for Human Rights to support and independent group of international experts to investigate the crime, following the model established for the investigation into the disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapa students in Mexico.
There is no doubt that this latest police scandal marks another surge in the militarized counterinsurgency policing model promoted by the US, in the guise of police reform. The question is what impact will it have on security in Honduras. Violence in security forces, not just the police but also the military, is chronic, and the public sees the security forces as a principal source of violence against the population. State involvement in Berta Caceres' murder, and the murder of other human rights advocates, is widely suspected.
The public is tired of the dizzying parade of changing acronyms that only reconfigure power relations between organized crime networks. Police reform is meaningless, no more than a reconfiguration of criminal structures, without changes in the political structure. Yet, the US has always prioritized stable relations with the corrupt network of political and economic elites over real security for the Honduran population, wasting public money on lucrative contracts for security firms in an endless cycle corruption and violence.
The kind of investigation demanded by COPINH and Berta's family could begin to uncover the political economic structures that manage violence in Honduras, but Honduran politicians, long the beneficiaries and participants in criminal actions, are refusing to allow independent investigators into the country. But the US Embassy is more interested in using the scandals to push through the counterinsurgency policing model than challenging the criminal networks that run Honduras.

US corporate tax cheats hiding $1.4 trillion in profits in offshore accounts

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A report issued Thursday by the British charity Oxfam found that the 50 largest US corporations are hiding $1.4 trillion in profits in overseas accounts to avoid US income taxes, much of it in tax havens like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.
The biggest tax dodger is technology giant Apple, with $181 billion held offshore. General Electric had the second-largest stash, at $119 billion, enough to repay four times over the $28 billion GE received in federal guarantees during the 2008 Wall Street crash. Microsoft had $108 billion in overseas accounts, with companies like Exxon Mobil, Pfizer, IBM, Cisco Systems, Google, Merck, and Johnson & Johnson rounding out the top ten.
Overseas tax havens have been the focus of recent revelations about tax scams by wealthy individuals, based on the leak of the “Panama Papers,” documents from a single Panama-based law firm, Mossack Fonseca, involving 214,000 offshore shell companies. The firm’s clients included 29 billionaires and 140 top politicians worldwide, among them a dozen heads of government.
But the sums involved in corporate tax scams dwarf those hidden away by individuals. According to the Oxfam report, the offshore manipulations by the 50 largest US corporations cost the US taxpayer $111 billion each year, while robbing another $100 billion annually from countries overseas, many of them desperately poor.
The $111 billion a year in US taxes evaded would be sufficient to eliminate 90 percent of child poverty in America, effectively wiping out that social scourge. It is more than the annual cost of the food stamp program, or unemployment benefits, or the total budget of the Department of Education.
Oxfam timed the release of its report for the April 15 income tax deadline in the United States (actually Monday, April 18 this year), when tens of millions of working people must file their income tax returns or face federal penalties. Working people could face additional tax penalties of up to 2 percent of household income, to a maximum of $975, under the Obamacare “individual mandate,” if they have not purchased private health insurance.
There is a stark contrast between the IRS hounding of working people for relatively small amounts of money—but difficult or impossible to pay for those on low incomes—and the green light given to corporate tax cheats who evade taxation on trillions in income.
“As Americans rush to finalize tax returns, multinational corporations that benefit from trillions in taxpayer-funded support are dodging billions in taxes,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America. “The vast sums large companies stash in tax havens should be fighting poverty and rebuilding America’s infrastructure, not hidden offshore in Panama, Bahamas, or the Cayman Islands.”
The Oxfam report, titled “Broken at the Top,” expresses concern that “tax dodging by multinational corporations…contributes to dangerous inequality that is undermining our social fabric and hindering economic growth.”
It continues: “This inequality is fueled by an economic and political system that benefits the rich and powerful at the expense of the rest, causing the gains of economic growth over the last several decades to go disproportionately to the already wealthy. Among the most damning examples of this rigged system is the way large, profitable companies use offshore tax havens, and other aggressive and secretive methods, to dramatically lower their corporate tax rates in the United States and developing countries alike.”
Oxfam collected figures available from the 10-K reports and other financial documents issued by the 50 largest US companies, covering the period since the Wall Street crash, 2008 through 2014, and presented them in an interactive table. The figures included total profits, federal taxes paid, total US taxes paid (including state and local), lobbying expenses, tax breaks, money held in offshore accounts, and benefits received from the federal government, including loans, loan guarantees and bailouts.
Among the most important findings:
* The top 50 companies made nearly $4 trillion in profits globally, but paid only $412 billion in federal income tax, for an effective tax rate of barely 10 percent, compared to the statutory rate of 35 percent.
* The 50 companies spent $2.6 billion to influence the federal government, while reaping nearly $11.2 trillion in federal support, for an effective return of 400,000 percent on their lobbying expenses.
* The overseas cash stashed by the 50 companies, nearly $1.4 trillion, is larger than the Gross Domestic Product of Russia, Mexico, Spain or South Korea.
* US multinationals reported 43 percent of their foreign earnings from five tax havens, countries that accounted for only 4 percent of their foreign workforce and 7 percent of foreign investment. All told, US companies shifted between $500 billion and $700 billion in profits from countries where economic activity actually took place to countries where tax rates were low.
* In the year 2012 alone, US firms reported $80 billion in profits in Bermuda, more than their combined reported profits in the four largest economies (after the US itself): China, Japan, Germany and France. This figure was nearly 20 times the total GDP of the tiny island country.
The Oxfam report also pointed to an estimated $100 billion in taxes evaded in foreign countries, many of them rich in natural resources extracted by such global giants as Exxon, Chevron and Dow Chemical. According to the report, “Taxes paid, or unpaid, by multinational companies in poor countries can be the difference between life and death, poverty or opportunity. $100 billion is four times what the 47 least developed countries in the world spend on education for their 932 million citizens. $100 billion is equivalent to what it would cost to provide basic life-saving health services or safe water and sanitation to more than 2.2 billion people.”
The report cited former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s assessment that “Africa loses more money each year to tax dodging than it receives in international development assistance.”
Oxfam offered no solution to the growth of inequality and the systematic looting by big corporations that its report documents, except to urge governments around the world to close tax loopholes. The group also pleads with the corporate bosses themselves not to be quite so greedy. Neither capitalist governments nor the CEOs will pay the slightest attention. But the working class should take note of these figures, which provide ample evidence of the bankrupt and reactionary nature of capitalism, and the urgent necessity of building a mass movement, on a global scale, to put an end to the profit system.

Revolution Is in the Air

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The sustained, daily civil disobedience at the Capitol by demonstrators denouncing the capture of our political system by corporate money is part of one of the largest and most important movements for social justice since the Occupy uprising. Join it.

Six hundred of the protesters have been arrested, and I was among 100 arrested Friday.

The protesters, organized by Democracy Spring, have converged on Washington from across the country. Young. Old. Black. White. Brown. Native American. Asian. Christian. Jew. Muslim. Buddhist. Atheist. From the left. From the right. Some marched for 10 days along a 160-mile route from Philadelphia to Washington.

On Friday, about a dozen protesters who had slipped into a tour group to get into the Capitol used zip ties to bind themselves to each other and to scaffolding inside the rotunda. They remained until they were arrested. In addition, scores of other protesters were taken away by police during the day.

“We the people demand a democracy free from the corrupting influence of big money and voter suppression,” they shouted. “We demand a democracy where every vote is counted and every voice is heard. Democracy Spring!”

The hundreds of arrests this past week have been largely ignored by a corporate media whose lobbyists, along with those of other corporations, are a familiar presence on Capitol Hill. The mass media’s blackout of the largest number of arrests at the Capitol in decades is one of innumerable examples of our corporate coup d’├ętat. And until corporate power is overthrown—and it will be overthrown only from the streets in sustained acts of civil disobedience—the nation will continue to devolve into an authoritarian police state. Corporations will continue to strip us of our remaining rights, carry out the deadly assault on the ecosystem, impoverish workers, make a mockery of our democracy and cannibalize what is left of the country. The system of corporate power is incapable of reform. It must be destroyed.

We will have to do this together. No one will do it for us. And as the numbers in the streets swell—and I will be with the protesters in Washington again on Monday—the corruption of our political system becomes ever more apparent.

It is imperative to protest in Cleveland and Philadelphia during the Republican and Democratic conventions later this year. The building of movements and sustained civil disobedience is far more important than voting. Voting without powerful and organized movements is futile. Voting without profound electoral reform, including banishing corporate money from politics, is useless.

The hope of Democracy Spring organizers is that growing waves of people will be arrested at the Capitol. Monday is expected to draw hundreds of people to a sit-in. While the protests center specifically on four bills before Congress that would expand public financing for federal campaigns, pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, end gerrymandering and restore the Voting Rights Act, they also have challenged corporate domination of all aspects of society. The daily marches have focused on themes: labor, racial justice, student debt and (on Saturday) climate justice.

Democracy cannot be sustained if it cannot be seen. Those in power must be made to fear movements that are willing to disrupt the machinery of state. The elites must be kept in check.

The question, as the philosopher Karl Popper pointed out, is not how to get good people to rule. Most people attracted to power, Popper wrote, are at best mediocre and usually venal. The question is how to build movements to stop the powerful from doing sustained damage to the citizenry, the nation and the environment. It is not our job to take power. It is our job to keep power constantly off balance and fearful of overstepping its reach to pillage on behalf of the elites.

This is why, as Ralph Nader points out, our last liberal president was Richard Nixon. Nixon was not a liberal or endowed with a conscience. However, powerful grass-roots movements, including the anti-war movement and labor unions, frightened him and others in power. Nixon in 1974 signed an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act that raised wages by more than 40 percent. He created the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. He called for universal health insurance and passed progressive legislation including the Mine and Safety Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act—much of it authored by Nader. He pushed through a minimum tax on the wealthy—the alternative minimum tax—and called for a guaranteed minimum income for the poor under the Family Assistance Program. During his administration, for the first time since World War II, spending on social service programs exceeded expenditures on the war machine.

It was the pressure of radical movements and independent parties such as the Progressive Party and the Communist Party that saw Franklin Delano Roosevelt create the New Deal, which delivered a series of social and economic reforms that only the Nixon presidency would rival. Roosevelt warned his fellow oligarchsthat they had better part with some of their money to create public works projects, Social Security and some 12 million jobs during the Depression or face the prospect of a revolution in which they would lose everything. Roosevelt later said that one of his greatest achievements was saving capitalism.

The insurgent candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have made it clear to citizens across the political spectrum that money has replaced the vote. Their supporters and other Americans now understand that the elites have gamed the system. They grasp that they have been shut out. And this has engendered the anger and frustration that fuel movements willing to step outside the established boundaries of the political process.

The corrupt institutions of power have, for decades, successfully used empty political theater to create the fiction of democracy. In our managed democracy, usually only corporate-approved candidates—including Barack Obama, who was anointed by the Chicago political machine—are able to get elected to state or national office. It is nearly impossible in our system of inverted totalitarianismto vote against the interests of ExxonMobil, Bank of America, Raytheon or Goldman Sachs. On all of the major structural issues, from the failure to regulate Wall Street to imperial wars and the evisceration of our civil liberties, there has been complete continuity between the Bush and Obama administrations.

The voices of citizens are rising from the streets of Washington and fracking sites in Colorado. They are rising from towns and cities such as Ferguson and Baltimore where police murders are terrorizing poor people of color. They are rising in Los Angeles from underpaid workers and the Dreamers. And these voices will, if we sustain and join them, become a deafening crescendo. They will create the kinds of movements that alone make social and political change possible.

We all have the capacity to refuse to cooperate. We do not have to be complicit in the collective suicide of the species. We can bring democracy into the streets. By joining boycotts, demonstrations, strikes, hunger fasts and popular movements, by carrying out acts of civil disobedience, we ignite our souls, we create another narrative, another way of being, and we expose the dead hand of authority.

The elites are in trouble. They have lost credibility. Neoliberalism and globalization have been unmasked as tools of corporate exploitation. The billions spent on propaganda to maintain the illusion of democracy and the benefits of the “free market” no longer work. The endless wars, which have not made the United States, Europe or the Middle East more secure, are now unmasked as blood-drenched arms markets for a war industry bloated with trillions of taxpayer dollars.

The war industry and the fossil fuel industry, like all corporate systems of exploitation, are at their core systems of death. They assault a planet that needs to swiftly build green infrastructures and egalitarian social systems that make life possible. The battle before us, as anyone who follows climate science understands, is urgent. It is about defeating these systems of death. It is the battle for life. We may lose. These systems are powerful and ruthless. But if we do not resist, we extinguish hope.

Panama Papers Offer More Evidence That Free Trade Isn’t Really Free

As much as President Clinton and President Obama like to talk about "free trade" deals, the truth is that the working class ends up paying.
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You might wonder what the connection is between a friendly game of golf last summer in Martha’s Vineyard and the Panama Papers. Read on.

As anyone who hasn’t been in a cave – or otherwise away from the Internet — knows, last week the German newspaper S├╝ddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, working with more than a hundred publications around the world, broke news of the biggest data leak in history, from an anonymous source tapping into the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Why haven’t our usual suspects, the parade of moneybags we’re used to seeing flaunt their wealth even as they do their best to conceal vast portions of it – made an appearance in the leaked data?

Using eleven and a half million documents sent to them via encrypted files, the reporters are revealing the dark secrets of offshore tax havens and phony shell companies favored by the mega-rich and powerful – from plutocrats and politicians to movie stars and professional athletes – who use them to hide and hoard their fortunes, even as billions live and die in poverty.

But what about the United States – why haven’t our usual suspects, the parade of moneybags we’re used to seeing flaunt their wealth even as they do their best to conceal vast portions of it – made an appearance in the leaked data? Let’s go back to that golf game in Martha’s Vineyard.

It was a sunny August afternoon at the Farm Neck Golf Club, described by Golf Digest as “a jewel on the Vineyard” where 18 holes during summer prime time currently cost $170 a head.  The players: President Obama, former President Bill Clinton, their mutual friend, inside-the-Beltway wheeler-dealer Vernon Jordan, and former US Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

Start with Clinton. No sooner was “the man from Hope” in the White House than he pushed for and signed NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement that outsourced countless industries and, according to the Economic Policy Institute, siphoned hundreds of thousands of jobs from the United States to Mexico.

And Vernon Jordan? This one-time civil rights leader and champion of poor folks is now one of the richest corporate lobbyists in Washington. As we wrote a couple of years ago, “Jordan is senior counsel at the powerful law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which recently became the most lucrative lobbying operation in America, earning $8.6 million in the second quarter of 2014”

If you would know his position on “free trade,” hearken back to October 2005, and a speech by President George W. Bush at the Economic Club of Washington (Jordan was then club president). “It’s important that people in Washington not use trade as a political issue,” Bush said. “The objective is to have strong support from Republicans and independents and discerning Democrats, like Vernon Jordan.”

The Presidents Obama and Clinton were out on the links in honor of Jordan’s 80th birthday. They could just as easily have been celebrating the ways in which the three of them — and Dubya — have helped give America a trade policy that has devastated the working class but made the rich much more wealthy.

When the Panama Papers were released last week, President Obama said, “There is no doubt that the problem of global tax avoidance generally, is a huge problem… There are folks here in America who are taking advantage of the same stuff. A lot of it is legal, but that’s exactly the problem. It’s not that they’re breaking the laws, it’s that the laws are so poorly designed that they allow people, if they’ve got enough lawyers and enough accountants, to wiggle out of responsibilities that ordinary citizens are having to abide by.”

And who’s responsible for that? Maybe the Panama Papers won’t reveal further offshore skullduggery by American business. But the fact is, we’re already in it up to our necks. Go back to our long history with Panama, pulling it away from Colombia to dig the canal and advance the interests of corporate America.

Bring that history right up to 2011. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had pushed for, and Obama as president and Hillary Clinton as secretary of state consummated — as one of their first priorities when they came to power — the Panama free trade agreement, an early investment in further corporate support and further evidence that both parties are too often in league as agents of corporate interests.

And guess who was at the pivot? The other fellow in that Martha’s Vineyard foursome, Ron Kirk. As US Trade Representative, he was key to those Panama negotiations when Obama became president.

Barack Obama insists the White House did the right thing when the administration pushed the deal and maintains that in fact he brought greater transparency to Panama’s financial transactions by insisting on a tax information exchange agreement on the side.

But, as David Nakamura wrote in The Washington Post last week, “Consumer advocates who have fought U.S. trade policies said the administration and its allies are trying to claim credit for reforms in Panama without accepting responsibility for the revelations in the unfolding Panama Papers scandal about potentially widespread tax avoidance.”

Nakamura quoted Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch: “The Panama Papers just show once again how entirely cynical and meaningless are American presidents’ and corporate boosters’ lavish promises of economic benefits and policy reforms from trade agreements… [I]nvestor protections and official U.S. stamp of approval made it safer to send dirty money to Panama.”

In 2011, Hillary Clinton praised the Panama free trade agreement, and similar deals with Colombia and South Korea, saying they would “make it easier for American companies to sell their products… The Obama administration is constantly working to deepen our economic engagement throughout the world, and these agreements are an example of that commitment.”

But as she, President Obama and Ron Kirk applied the thumbscrews to get the Panama deal passed, Bernie Sanders made a powerful speech on the floor of the Senate against the Panama deal saying that the pact “would make this bad situation much worse” and keep the United States from cracking down on abusive and illegal offshore tax havens.” Those remarks are now viral on the Web because it shows how much longer on this key issue Sanders has been right —  just as the Panama Papers reveal how toothless our trade rules have been.

If Sanders were not around today, Hillary Clinton would still be the supporting TPP, the Trans Pacific Partnership. It’s the Panama deal on steroids. Until now the Democratic Party has been just as culpable as Republicans on talking “free trade” while using these trade agreements to rig the market for conglomerates. The main reason the Panama Papers probably haven’t revealed as much on US corporations is that the technicalities of the agreements effectively mask and “legalize” the hidden wiring that benefits the big boys and confuses the public.

These trade deals hide a lot, and our public officials, especially the Democrats who should know better, must not blindly buy into them. If Hillary Clinton wonders why so many working people are supporting Bernie Sanders – and Donald Trump, for that matter — she needs look no further than the closet where her husband keeps his golf clubs. It is, after all, a rich man’s game.