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Tech’s Tax Paradise

November 24, 2017
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By Joe Kukura : sfweekly – excerpt

Uber, Apple, and Facebook are still evading U.S. taxes on an epic scale, according to a trove of leaked financial documents called the Paradise Papers.

A recent hack of 13.4 million confidential banking documents shows that rampant corporate tax evasion hits close to home here in the Bay Area. The documents, known as the Paradise Papers, reveal how the local tech industry’s use of offshore tax shelters has only become more creative in the wake of recent government crackdowns.

Among other things, the Paradise Papers have exposed underhanded offshore tax maneuvers by more than 120 politicians worldwide, including President Donald Trump’s billionaire Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and even the Queen of England. But they also show similar schemes are used by Uber, Apple, and Facebook.

It was German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung which first obtained the documents, that detail the secret dealings of Appleby, an offshore law firm. The documents are slowly being leaked by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and a fresh batch of data was released on Friday.

SF Weekly sifted through it only to find the Bay Area’s biggest tech companies, like Apple, Facebook, and Uber, have all used Appleby to secretly funnel hundreds of billions in assets to offshore tax havens…

“The essence of oligarchy is that the billionaire class is never satisfied with what they have,” Sanders said on Twitter earlier this month. “They want more, no matter what impact their efforts have on working people.”… (more)

Tech disrupts more than it fixes, but the big tech giants are not alone in that regard. The Paradise Papers prove that many wealthy US institutions and popular international celebrities hide their wealth behind off-shore accounts, as exposed in the Paradise Papers.

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GOP tax bills could shield multinationals’ future overseas profits

By Carolyn Lochhead : sfchroinicle

WASHINGTON — Silicon Valley multinationals such as Apple and Google that are already sheltering hundreds of billions of dollars in overseas tax havens may pay little or no U.S. tax on future overseas profits under legislation Republicans are racing to enact…

It’s been largely overlooked amid controversies over how the new tax bills would affect households, but a wholesale change in the way the federal government would tax foreign profits is at the core of the GOP tax overhaul that the House passed this month and the Senate could approve in its own version this week…

Clausing and other critics say there are better ways to fix the problem than to charge little or no tax on overseas profits. They say the proposed new system will only invite U.S. companies to move more cash offshore, because the rate on overseas profits in low- or non-taxing countries will still be much lower even than the new 20 percent U.S. corporate tax rate…

Both the House and Senate bills have complex provisions to try to prevent multinationals from gaming the system, supporters of the tax plans say. The Tax Foundation’s Eakins said these would make the tax havens less attractive by assessing a kind of minimum tax on corporations that shift paper profits to low-tax jurisdictions.

But Reed College’s Clausing disputes that, saying these provisions have been written in a way that will encourage even greater use of tax havens… (more)

 

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Disruption games: why are libertarians lining up with autocrats to undermine democracy?

November 24, 2017

By Julian Borger : theguardian – excerpt

In the era of digital politics, an odd alliance has sprung up: anti-state campaigners and Moscow-backed nationalists are combining to disrupt liberal institutions…

Not sure that we agree with this author, but, we like to investigate all sides of the issues and invite our readers to do the same.

At a time when strange alliances are disrupting previously stable democracies, the Catalan independence referendum was a perfect reflection of a weird age. Along with the flag-waving and calls for “freedom” from Madrid, the furore that followed the vote unleashed some of the darker elements that have haunted recent turbulent episodes in Europe and America: fake news, Russian mischief and, marching oddly in step, libertarian activism.

From his residence of more than five years inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Assange tweeted 80 times in support of Catalan secession, and his views were amplified by the state-run Russian news agency, Sputnik, making him the most quoted English-language voice on Twitter, according to independent research and the Sydney Morning Herald.

In second place was Edward Snowden, another champion of transparency, who like Assange had little by way of a track record on Spanish politics. Together, Snowden and Assange accounted for a third of all Twitter traffic under the #Catalonia hashtag…

 

The same patterns were apparent in the Brexit vote, Donald Trump’s shock victory, the surge of the Front National in France and the dramatic ascent of the Five Star Movement in Italy, from the pet project of a comedian, Beppe Grillo, to the second most powerful force in Italy.

In all cases, libertarians viscerally opposed to centralised power made common cause with a brutally autocratic state apparatus in Moscow, an American plutocrat with a deeply murky financial record, and the instinctively authoritarian far right. All in the name of disruption of government and liberal norms in western democracies..

“The radical libertarians and the autocrats are allied by virtue of sharing an enemy which is the mainstream, soft, establishment, liberal politics,” said Jamie Bartlett, the director of the centre for the analysis of social media at the Demos thinktank.

“Most early, hardline cryptographers who were part of this movement in the 1990s considered that democracy and liberty were not really compatible. Like most radical libertarians – as Assange was – the principal enemy was the soft democrats who were imposing the will of the majority on the minority and who didn’t really believe in genuine, absolute freedom.”…

That meant some odd bedfellows could become useful allies. “They have been able to forge a very convenient marriage with other enemies of liberal democracy,” said Bartlett, “who are in every other sense imaginable completely at odds with each other, but they do share that common hatred of establishment, western, soft, democratic politics as they see it.”

Edward Snowden’s worldview also had libertarian roots. He was a supporter of the rightwing maverick US presidential candidate, Ron Paul, and vigorously opposed the Obama administration’s endorsement of gun control and affirmative action…(more)

Homeless evictions near future site of Zuckerberg-funded school spark protest

November 17, 2017

By Alastair Gee in East Palo Alto : guardian – excerpt

Foundation launched by Facebook founder and his wife says it had nothing to do with evictions near planned private school for low-income students..

Residents of a Silicon Valley city protested on Wednesday as officials evicted homeless families and others living in RVs from their parking spots over public health concerns.

The location of the showdown was suggestive: next to the future site of a private school for low-income students that receives funding from a philanthropic initiative by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

Schoolchildren living in the vehicles were among those evicted and the outcry highlighted the profound poverty in the local school district, which includes the Facebook campus in its catchment area.

Homelessness in Silicon Valley is deeply intertwined with the technology boom and the real estate crunch that has ensued. The foundation said it had nothing to do with the RV removals, and construction was still more than a year away…(more)

UC president’s office improperly interfered with financial audit

November 15, 2017

By Nanette Asimov : sfchronicle – excerpt

Officials in the University of California president’s office improperly interfered with a state audit of UC finances, instructed campuses not to “air dirty laundry” in an audit survey, and misled the regents about why they did it, according to an investigative report reviewed Tuesday by The Chronicle.

The independent investigation by former state Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno into audit tampering finds evidence that two top executives in UC President Janet Napolitano’s office — Chief of Staff Seth Grossman and Bernie Jones, his deputy — directed the interference and oversaw changes to confidential survey answers from three campuses to put UC headquarters in a better light. Grossman and Jones also sought to keep the matter secret, warning each other by text messages to keep communications “off of email.”.

The report found that a third UC executive, Deputy General Counsel Karen Petrulakis, offered her own survey revisions, but also recommended that UC officials inform the state auditor that they were changing survey answers that were supposed to be confidential responses from campuses. That didn’t happen. Petrulakis left UC in July, and Grossman and Jones resigned last week…. (more)

There appears to be a protection for some people in high places. No matter how many times they are accused they somehow slide by. How many investigations and taxpayer dollars will it take to get to the bottom of this and is there any hope for a change at in the UC system? Too much money and too much power is a dangerous recipe that gets us nowhere fast.

America’s ‘Retail Apocalypse’ Is Really Just Beginning

November 9, 2017

By Matt Townsend, Jenny Surane, Emma Orr and Christopher Cannon : bloomsburg – excerpt (includes graphics and maps)

The so-called retail apocalypse has become so ingrained in the U.S. that it now has the distinction of its own Wikipedia entry.The industry’s response to that kind of doomsday description has included blaming the media for hyping the troubles of a few well-known chains as proof of a systemic meltdown. There is some truth to that. In the U.S., retailers announced more than 3,000 store openings in the first three quarters of this year…

But chains also said 6,800 would close. And this comes when there’s sky-high consumer confidence, unemployment is historically low and the U.S. economy keeps growing. Those are normally all ingredients for a retail boom, yet more chains are filing for bankruptcy and rated distressed than during the financial crisis. That’s caused an increase in the number of delinquent loan payments by malls and shopping centers…

The reason isn’t as simple as Amazon.com Inc. taking market share or twenty-somethings spending more on experiences than things. The root cause is that many of these long-standing chains are overloaded with debt—often from leveraged buyouts led by private equity firms. There are billions in borrowings on the balance sheets of troubled retailers, and sustaining that load is only going to become harder—even for healthy chains.

The debt coming due, along with America’s over-stored suburbs and the continued gains of online shopping, has all the makings of a disaster…(more)

This may be a good reason to get the cannabis market up and running. We may need some more retail jobs to replace the ones we are losing. This is also a good reason to protect the small businesses we will need to rely on to replace those closing retail giants.

SF to allow indoor places for smoking cannabis

November 8, 2017

by Joshua Sabatini : sfexaminer – excerpt

San Francisco plans to allow cannabis businesses to let their customers smoke the drug onsite.

The decision Tuesday marks the latest development in San Francisco’s race to adopt recreational cannabis regulations by Jan. 1, when the drug becomes legal statewide under last year’s passage of Proposition 64.

Also Tuesday, it was decided cannabis business owners should have more leverage in negotiating leases by attaching permits issued by the Office of Cannabis to the operators themselves and not the site…

Smoking on site in the smoking rooms would be allowed in cannabis retailers and cannabis microbusiness once they receive the proper permits from The City and state…

Safai said that in the past The City has seen cases where a landlord didn’t renew the lease of a city-permitted medical cannabis dispensary and “basically took the business away from the small proprietor” and other cases where rent was raised exorbitantly.

“It changes the balance of power back to somewhat even in terms of negotiation,” Safai said. “[The landlord] will be more reasonable in their negotiations.”… (more)

This is an interesting idea. If this works for cannabis entrepreneurs, maybe it will work for other businesses that need protection. If we want to protect them we should be able to figure out a way to do so.

 

 

Why we can’t have nice things: dockless bikes and the tragedy of the commons

November 5, 2017

by Dominic Rushe : the guardian – excerpt

Behind this bucolic industry is a multibillion-dollar battle between China’s big tech companies and Silicon Valley, and the nightmare of vandals and parking

If there is one sad fact that technology has taught us, it’s maybe that we just can’t have nice things. Now Washington DC has become the latest testing ground for what happens when technology and good intentions meet the real world.

Brightly coloured bikes began popping up around the US capital in September like little adverts for a better world. On a recent trip two lemon yellow bikes were propped up in the autumn sun by the carousel on the Mall. A pair of lime green bikes added a splash of colour to a grey corner of DuPont Circle. An orange and silver bike waited excitedly for its rider outside the George Washington University Hospital.

The untethered bikes all belong to a new generation of “dockless” bike share companies. To pick one up users download an app that shows where the bikes have been left. Scan a QR code on your phone, the bike unlocks and you are off for a $1 30-minute carbon-free ride. Unlike docking rental services, which require bikes to be returned to a fixed docking station, you can leave your ride wherever your journey ends, practically. And therein lies the problem…(more)

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