MintPress News Independent, non-partisan journalism Thu, 23 Oct 2014 01:05:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Independent, non-partisan journalism Mint Press News clean Mint Press News (Mint Press News) All Rights Reserved Independent, non-partisan journalism MintPress News Whistleblowers: IRS Officials Behind ‘Fraudulent’ Multi-Billion Dollar Corporate Tax Giveaways Wed, 22 Oct 2014 16:16:06 +0000 The allegations include claims that senior IRS officials have “intentionally undermined the authority of the IRS Whistleblower Office” to avoid taking action “in cases involving billions in corporate taxes due.” The IRS also refuses to enforce laws for “large corporate taxpayers,”. Continue reading

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corporate welfareA 10-year veteran Internal Revenue Service (IRS) attorney has demanded a Congressional audit of the IRS to investigate the agency’s alleged role in allowing American corporations to illegally avoid paying billions of dollars in taxes at the same time the agency is cracking down on individuals and small businesses.

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, IRS commissioner John A. Koskinen, and IRS chief counsel William Wilkins, Jane J. Kim, an attorney in the IRS Office of the Chief Counsel in New York, accused IRS executives of “deliberately” facilitating multi-billion dollar tax giveaways. The letter, dated October 19, will add further pressure on the agency, which is under fire for allegedly targeting conservative and Tea Party groups.

Kim, who has previously blown the whistle on “gross waste of government resources” in the IRS New York field offices, wrote in her new letter that senior IRS officials have “intentionally undermined the authority of the IRS Whistleblower Office” to avoid taking action “in cases involving billions in corporate taxes due.” The IRS also refuses to enforce laws for “large corporate taxpayers,” resulting in giveaways of further billions, despite applying the same laws with “draconian strictness to small business, the self-employed, and wage-earning individuals.”

The IRS attorney’s letter was copied to Senator Jason Foster, chief investigative counsel for the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, as well as several other Senators and Congressional representatives, including Elizabeth Warren, Maxine Waters, Alan Grayson, Bernie Sanders, Charles Grassley, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz. They could not be reached for comment.


Whistleblowers shut down

Following coverage of her earlier allegations by Pulitzer Prize winning tax journalist David Cay Johnston, Kim was approached by a private sector lawyer representing corporate whistleblowers to the IRS, who told her that numerous legitimate investigations into corporate tax fraud were being shut down. Her letter sent on Sunday to the US Treasury and IRS described three such cases.

In one case, the IRS was auditing a US company that fraudulently under-reported its profits by nearly $3 billion annually. On behalf of the IRS, the whistleblower had drafted a detailed report proving the fraud, but the agency “closed its audit without ever asking a question or reviewing the documents submitted.” As much as $4 billion in taxes were lost.

In another instance, “a solid case” involving $6 billion of taxes due was “inexplicably shut down” according to IRS criminal investigation agents. Instead, detailed evidence of fraud and malfeasance “in hundreds to thousands of specific accounts” was ignored. The agent blamed links between senior IRS executives and outside corporations associated with the case.

In the third case, $3 billion of taxes were uncollected and now accumulate year after year. The American company claimed to the IRS that it earns all profits outside the US, which are then invested overseas, while informing foreign jurisdictions that it earns nothing outside the US. Although US laws tax Americans “on worldwide income,” the IRS simply closed the investigation despite clear evidence of a taxable income.

The private sector lawyer, a former IRS attorney in the Office of the Chief Counsel for over 15 years, said on condition of anonymity that Kim’s allegations are not isolated, but represent a deep-rooted trend: “The problem is the IRS upper management don’t want a big case going forward. They are purposely not working big cases. Employees are quietly encouraged not to expedite them, and to settle or dismiss them. I’ve seen the IRS sit on straightforward billion-dollar cases for years, and then decide not to pursue.”

The IRS Whistleblower Office (WO) was created by Congress in 2006 to encourage leaks of evidence concerning large-scale corporate tax fraud. Once a whistleblower case is proved, resulting in an individual or corporation getting taxed, whistleblowers are to be rewarded with 15 to 30 percent of the total tax paid to the IRS. In 2012, the most recent year with available data, the IRS paid $125 million in whistleblower awards.

“Since, 2006, the office has received anywhere from 1,500 to 1,900 tips per year, the vast bulk of which are not investigated,” said Kim.

According to the private sector lawyer, the Whistleblower Office is being hampered by the agency’s attorneys, who are making decisions not to work the bigger cases.


Energy tax scams

Kim’s letter also highlighted cases exposed by her colleague, IRS attorney Bill Henck, who since 2003 has blown the whistle on IRS concessions to two major corporate energy tax scams for ‘clean’ coal (coal sprayed with the equivalent of “watered down Elmer’s glue”) and ‘black liquor’ biofuel (a byproduct of paper manufacturing with added diesel), resulting in more than $50 billion of unclaimed taxes (not to mention increased fossil fuel emissions).

According to the IRS itself, the US loses $450 billion a year to tax evasion. But the actual sum is probably much higher. “If we factor in the quantity of the cases that are piling up in the WO that no one is looking at, if we consider that the cases I’ve been made aware of are roughly representative of the scale of losses for each case, it could be much higher,” said Jane Kim. A 2008 Senate report on tax havens found that the wealthiest US companies and individuals could be hiding as much as $5 trillion in offshore accounts.

Kim’s letter blamed “a lack of oversight” mechanisms by which Congress can hold the IRS to account. “If the intent of the IRS executive offices was to emasculate the WO, they seem largely to have succeeded,” she wrote. The IRS Office of the Chief Counsel unjustifiably adopted “wide latitude” in “interpreting the laws and regulations… [to] thwart the Office’s effectiveness and mandate.”

Bill Henck, who has worked for over 26 years in the IRS Office of the Chief Counsel, agreed. “The senior executives drive the train on all this and pal around with lobbyists,” he said. “Treasury was involved with both the Elmer’s Glue scam and the black liquor taxability issue. IRS executives look out for themselves, which usually means protecting corporate interests, since they hire lobbyists and are close to politicians.”

According to Henck, this perspective of collusion between the Treasury, IRS, and corporate lobbies, is widely held by IRS employees: “I’ve talked to numerous revenue agents and attorneys within the IRS who believe, like I do, that the agency has hit the skids and that senior executives are dishonest.”

In a detailed account published in February, Henck described how he had “personally witnessed improper giveaways of billions of dollars to taxpayers with inside access at the agency” and “bullying of elderly taxpayers” despite the legal case against them weak. The IRS’ “decision to allow well connected taxpayers improperly to avoid reporting billions in taxable income,” he alleged “was covered up by high level officials.” Ultimately, according to Forbes, the IRS’ mishandling of the black liquor case exposed by Henck “cost the United States $25 billion.”


A revolving door

In 2010, former IRS chief counsel Donald Korb, a George W. Bush appointee, criticized the creation of the Whistleblower Office under his tenure as a “real disaster for the tax system.” Describing it as “unseemly” to encourage Americans to “turn in their neighbors and employers to the IRS,” he complained: “The IRS didn’t ask for these rules; they were forced on it by Congress.”

In Henck’s view, this sort of attitude is symptomatic of a wider culture “including a complete lack of accountability on the part of IRS executives, fear of retaliation on the part of IRS employees, a general lack of integrity, and the influence of lobbyists.”

Backing up Henck’s concerns, the private sector lawyer and ex-IRS attorney explained that since 1998, IRS restructuring has focused on bringing in “outside people.” This led to the employment of an extra layer of executives who were previously “partners from big accounting firms.” Citing active IRS criminal agents, the ex-IRS attorney said: “Almost every large firm or corporation has a person inside the IRS. It’s a revolving door, with the top two or three management layers all from big accounting and law firms, and this is why they won’t work big billion-dollar cases criminally. Private bar attorneys are, in effect, controlling the IRS. It’s a type of corruption – that’s the word used by one IRS agent I’m in touch with whose case was shut down by higher ups without cause.”

The incumbent IRS chief counsel, William Wilkins, was previously a lobbyist at the WilmerHale firm where for 21 years he represented and lobbied on behalf of private sector clients including the Swiss Bankers Association. Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse have faced penalties, hearings and convictions for helping wealthy Americans illegally conceal billions of dollars of taxable income.

Attorney James Henry, former chief economist at financial consultancy McKinsey, said that Wilkins’ firm “continued to represent the Swiss Banking Association throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s. Now Wilkins gets appointed chief counsel of the IRS in 2009, and he’s presiding over these whistleblower cases.”

In early 2008, Treasury secretary Jacob Lew was chief operating officer at Citigroup’s alternative investment services unit, where he oversaw the bank’s expanding investments in Cayman Islands tax havens – and even invested in one himself.

Treasury officials refused comment on Kim’s letter, but an IRS spokesperson said: “The IRS cannot comment on specific cases or investigations. However, the IRS strongly supports statutory policies providing for whistleblower rewards where information leads to the collection of additional tax proceeds. The IRS is also committed to pursuing and addressing tax evasion and fraud through all available tools, including information provided by whistleblowers.”

Henck, who still works with the IRS, expressed his bitter disillusionment with the lack of meaningful action. “I’m done with the whistleblowing because no one in authority seems to care,” he said. “The vast majority of IRS employees are honest and conscientious. We used to be the good guys and it is a damn shame that we probably can no longer claim that.”

 This articled was commissioned by Raw Story, and is published with permission from copyright owner Nafeez Ahmed.

Nafeez Ahmed is an investigative journalist, bestselling author and international security scholar. A regular contributor to The Guardian on the geopolitics of interconnected environmental, energy and economic crises, he has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, among many others. He is the author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (2010), among other books. His debut novel, ZERO POINT, is a science fiction thriller of the near future.
Read Jane J. Kim’s letter to the IRS…

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Hong Kong Talks Between Protesters And Police Fail To Achieve Resolution To Standoff Wed, 22 Oct 2014 16:04:22 +0000 Obama admistration must justify suppression of never-before-seen photographs depicting US military torture of detainees. Continue reading

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Hong Kong

HONG KONG  — On one side of the table sat the idealistic and earnest students in jeans and black T-shirts, knapsacks by their sides. Facing them was the lineup of seasoned government officials in formal suits.

In an unprecedented two-hour televised meeting Tuesday, the students passionately explained why they had taken to the streets for more than three weeks to fight for greater democracy in the specially-run Chinese region. The officials responded that the students’ demands were not legally feasible.

The discussion yielded scant progress, and protesters remained camped in the streets of three busy districts of the Asian financial hub on Wednesday.

The meeting also highlights the vast generational and political divide that needs to be bridged to end Hong Kong’s biggest political crisis since China took control of the city 17 years ago.

The student-led protests are rooted in growing discontent among young people about poor economic prospects in the territory with one of the world’s biggest wealth gaps. The protesters want Hong Kong’s government to abandon a requirement by China’s legislature for a committee to screen candidates for inaugural 2017 elections for the top leader. The students say it gives the city’s pro-Beijing elite too much say.

President Xi Jinping, who has taken a hard-line approach to dissent in other Chinese regions, is unlikely to give any ground.

As student leaders considered whether to meet officials again, protesters vowed to keep occupying the protest zones despite three court injunctions granted this week to taxi and minibus operators and the owner of an office tower ordering them to leave.

Cheung Kuen, a retired 55-year-old stock trader who watched the entire meeting, said there were no winners.

“The students have their rights, and the government has its problems,” Cheung said. “Nothing has changed. The government side already gave some proposals, which were not very deep. The students and society already know them. Hong Kong is only a region and can’t do any more so now it’s about who has more patience.”

He said he agreed with the students’ reform proposals calling for open nominations for the election candidates, but he didn’t see any chance of them becoming a reality.

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As Harvest Season Begins, Israeli Settlers Burn 100 Palestinian Olive Trees Wed, 22 Oct 2014 15:29:51 +0000 Attacks on the fall harvest are a key way that Palestinians are forced out of their homes and their lands confiscated for settlement construction, as the loss of a year's crop can signal destitution for farmers with no other way to support themselves. Continue reading

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Mideast Israel Palestinians

Palestinians try to put out fire set by Israeli settlers in an olive grove near the West Bank village of Burin, near Nablus, Monday, June .3,

Home reports:

A group of Zionist settlers set fire to around 100 olive trees owned by Palestinian farmers near Nablus in the northern West Bank, a Palestinian official said Wednesday, as the 2014 olive harvest, a major source of income for Palestinian farmers, begins.

“A group of settlers from the Yitzhar settlement located near Huwara town in Nablus set fire to the town’s olive fields, causing the destruction of 100 trees,” Ghassan Daghlas, the Palestinian Authority official in charge of the settlements file in the northern West Bank, told Anadolu Agency.

The attack sparked clashes between the settlers and local residents, which ended upon the arrival of Israeli Occupation Forces.

Daghlas condemned what he described as increasing settler attacks on Palestinian property and olive fields, slamming the Jewish-only Yitzhar settlement as “a center of extremism.”

“The settlement hosts a religious school and a religious center that issues edicts that call for killing Palestinians and stealing their land,” the official said.

Around 20,000 Jewish settlers live near Nablus in 39 Zionist-only settlements. Palestinian residents, for their part, complain of repeated attacks by settlers, who usually enjoy the protection of the Israeli forces.

Earlier this month, in the village of Yasuf in the Salfit district in the central West Bank, a large group of Israeli settlers violently beat 25-year-old Palestinian woman Alaa Fathi Atiyani while she was picking olives from trees with her children in an orchard, two days after dozens of Israeli settlers protected by soldiers burned and damaged olive trees in the village.

Similarly in Nablus, a group of Zionist settlers attacked Palestinian farmers and stole their olive crop, while another group chopped down dozens of olive trees on Palestinian agricultural lands.

The spate of attacks come as the 2014 olive harvest, a major source of income for Palestinian farmers, begins across the northern West Bank, and just weeks before harvesting begins across the south.

Attacks on the fall harvest are a key way that Palestinians are forced out of their homes and their lands confiscated for settlement construction, as the loss of a year’s crop can signal destitution for farmers with no other way to support themselves.

According to a 2012 report on Israeli settler violence released by the Palestine Center, a Washington-based nonprofit, every year the olive harvest period sees the highest peak in attacks on Palestinian civilians and property.

Over 7,500 olive trees were damaged or destroyed by settlers between January and mid-October in 2012, according to OCHA.

Settler violence against Palestinians and their property in the occupied West Bank is systematic and ignored by Israeli authorities, who rarely intervene in the violent attacks or prosecute the perpetrators.

In 2013, there were 399 incidents of settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Israeli authorities rarely investigate violent crimes carried out by settlers against Palestinian communities.

(Al-Akhbar, Anadolu)

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War On Marijuana Unconstitutional, Doctors Testify In Federal Court Monday Wed, 22 Oct 2014 15:08:05 +0000 Attorneys Zenia Gilg and Heather Burke write that “In effect, the action taken by the Department of Justice is either irrational, or more likely proves … [that] marijuana does not fit the criteria of a Schedule I Controlled Substance.”
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Michael CardenasThe U.S. government claims marijuana is a dangerous, addictive drug with no medical benefits. But that claim will be up for debate Monday in California when a federal judge is scheduled to hear testimony from doctors that conclude the opposite.

Doctors Carl Hart, Associate Professor of Psychology at Columbia University, retired physician Phillip Denny, and Greg Carter, Medical Director of St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute in Spokane, Washington will testify Monday that marijuana — real name, “cannabis” — is not the demon drug the federal government makes it out to be. Accepted science does not justify the listing of cannabis as a dangerous “Schedule I” substance, many say.

“[I]t is my considered opinion that including marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act is counter to all the scientific evidence in a society that uses and values empirical evidence,” Dr. Hart declared. “After two decades of intense scientific inquiry in this area, it has become apparent the current scheduling of cannabis has no footing in the realities of science and neurobiology.”

This is an unprecedented hearing, writes cannabis law reform advocate Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML.

Read more at Smell the Truth.

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VIDEO: Journalist Dies In Mysterious Crash, Shortly After Being Accused Of Spying By Turkey Wed, 22 Oct 2014 14:37:51 +0000 A Lebanese-American reporter working for Iranian channel, Press TV, Serena Shim has been killed in a car crash in Turkey, following her reports of accusations from Turkey’s intelligence agency that she had been “spying.”
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Shim was killed on Sunday as she was on a working mission in Turkey to cover the ongoing war in the strategic Syrian town of Kobani.

She was going back to her hotel from a report scene in the city of Suruç in Turkey’s Urfa Province when their car collided with a heavy vehicle. The identity and whereabouts of the truck driver remain unknown.

Shim, an American citizen of Lebanese origin, covered reports for Press TV in Lebanon, Iraq, and Ukraine.

On Friday, she told Press TV that the Turkish intelligence agency had accused her of spying probably due to some of the stories she has covered about Turkey’s stance on the ISIL terrorists in Kobani and its surroundings, adding that she feared being arrested.

Shim said she was among the few journalists obtaining stories of militants infiltrating into Syria through the Turkish border, adding that she had received images from militants crossing the Turkish border into Syria in World Food Organization and other NGOs’ trucks.

Shim flatly rejected accusations against her, saying she was “surprised” at this accusation “because I have nothing to hide and I have never done anything aside my job.”

Kobani and its surroundings have been under attack since mid-September, with the ISIL militants capturing dozens of nearby Kurdish villages.

Turkey has been accused of backing ISIL militants in Syria.

This article was published by Press TV.

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VIDEO: US Weapons Drop Meant For Kurds, ‘Accidentally’ Went To ISIS Wed, 22 Oct 2014 14:21:33 +0000 An ISIS video showed caches of hand grenades, ammunition, and grenade launchers, and will add to the massive amount of US-made weaponry ISIS already possesses. Continue reading

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The US air drops of weaponry to Kurdish fighters in and around Kobani ended up quite a bit more embarrassing than the administration predicted, as ISIS todayreleased a video showing they’d intercepted at least one of the parcels of weaponry.

The ISIS video showed caches of hand grenades, ammunition, and grenade launchers, and will add to the massive amount of US-made weaponry ISIS already possesses.

ISIS supporters followed up the release of the video with a series of “thank you” notes posted on social media, rubbing in the fact that ISIS is armed in great measure by US bungles.

Pentagon officials are reluctant to admit their mistakes, especially the big, obvious ones and today defended the airdrops on the grounds that “most” of the parcels of weaponry dropped ended up in Kurdish hands.

Pentagon officials said they couldn’t confirm the authenticity of the video, but that this was the sort of weaponry that was dropped and that it was possible. They promised a probe of the incident.

This article was published by AntiWar.

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VIDEO: Police Officer Shoots Dog, Video Contradicts His Explanation Wed, 22 Oct 2014 13:24:07 +0000 Disturbing footage from a body cam prompts a public outcry.
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Watch the raw video below:

The video caused the uproar you’d expect in North Texas. “The City is obviously concerned about the video showing an officer shooting a dog,” officials said in a statement responding to the outcry. “As is often the case, the short video does not tell the whole story.” That’s true. But the video does show that the official version of events set down before the video’s release was inaccurate. And police reports aside, it is hard to conceive of any precipitating event that would justify what’s in the video. The police officer needlessly approaches and whistles to the dog before shooting.

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Ebola Hits Home In Britain Even With No Victims Wed, 22 Oct 2014 13:03:26 +0000 Struggling to find the right note of caution at home, the UK is sending aid and volunteers abroad to help with the crisis.
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Britain Ebola Vaccine

Dr Felicity Hartnell, who is a clinical research fellow at Oxford University, holds a vial of an experimental vaccine against Ebola in Oxford, England Wednesday Sept. 17, 2014.

LONDON, UK — Javid Abdelmoneim returned from Sierra Leone so recently that he still advises people not to shake his hand, for their own peace of mind, until after the three-week incubation period for the Ebola virus has passed.

At London’s Royal Society of Medicine one night, the doctor with the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres displayed a slideshow of photos taken at MSF’s emergency clinic for Ebola patients in eastern Sierra Leone. Images showed a chart noting how many orphaned children each dead patient left behind; a whiteboard list of referrals to the mental health clinic showed a scribbled note next to one patient’s number: “child died today.”

“You will be confronted with death,” Abdelmoneim told an audience that included many considering following in his footsteps. “You will be confronted with six out of 10 of your patients dying. Think about where you’re going and what you are going to do. You’re not invincible.”

Abdelmoneim was speaking as part of a recruitment drive organized by SLWT, a network of Sierra Leonean expatriates in Britain that’s helping find the estimated 600 to 1,000 foreign health workers needed to supplement local staff in the country’s emergency Ebola clinics.

The current outbreak, which the World Health Organization called “the most severe, acute health emergency seen in modern times,” has infected nearly 10,000 people and killed more than 4,500, primarily in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

For those with personal ties to the stricken countries, the news is particularly painful.

“You feel kind of helpless,” said Anifa Cole, 48, a social worker from Sierra Leone who’s lived in the UK for 13 years. “There must be something you can do, even from a distance.”

Britain is sending $200 million in aid and 100 army medics to Sierra Leone to help with the crisis.

But it’s been criticized for waiting too long to respond to the unfolding emergency and exacerbating the economic devastation the disease is causing.

Many airlines have suspended flights to Ebola-stricken countries. In August, British Airways canceled all flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone through the end of this year.

Relief agencies say the airline’s decision has hampered their efforts to deliver aid and could cause needless panic in affected countries.

“We were just beginning to lift our heads above the parapet,” Cole said, referring to Sierra Leone’s recovery from a decade-long civil war that ended in 2002. “For this to happen now … how long is this setback going to last?”

The only known case of Ebola on British soil during the current outbreak was a British nurse who contracted the virus in Sierra Leone and was airlifted back to the UK in August for treatment. William Pooley, 29, made a full recovery and returned to Sierra Leone last week.

Since the outbreak first attracted attention, the authorities have sometimes struggled to strike the right balance between prudence and alarmism.

At Heathrow Airport, the world’s busiest international air hub, and Gatwick Airport, immigration officials are taking temperatures and questioning passengers from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. Similar precautions will soon be in place at the Eurostar rail terminal in London and other regional airports.

Health screeners at Heathrow were criticized after some were spotted shaking hands with passengers from affected countries.

The public health department, Public Health England, initially said shaking hands posed no risks because the virus is spread only via bodily fluids. It revised its position days later: For the moment, the hand-shaking ban stands.

“Ebola virus disease is not spread through intact skin, or by ordinary social contact, such as shaking hands or sitting next to someone,” the department said in a statement many here found confusing. “However, we have advised PHE staff responsible for screening people from countries with endemic Ebola to not shake their hands.”

At one south England hospital, an emergency room patient with a fever was placed in isolation this weekend after he revealed he’d recently returned from Africa.

Officials relaxed when tests showed he wasn’t carrying the virus and hadn’t visited any countries where Ebola is actually present.

Now officials believe it’s a question of when, not if, Ebola will reach here again.

“We will see someone with Ebola arriving in the UK,” Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told reporters earlier this month, “and the chief medical officer thinks it will be a handful of cases in the next three months.”

This article was published by Global Post.

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Dark Money Spending in Key Senate Races ‘Shattering’ Records: Report Wed, 22 Oct 2014 12:46:11 +0000 Outside spending 'giving wealthy spenders more power than ever to buy influence over our political process and elected officials,' says report author
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The 2014 midterm election marks the rise of the single-candidate dark money group, says report—a notable development when the balance of Senate power rests on a few key races. (Photo: Light Brigading/cc/flickr)

Unknown donors and big-monied, outside groups are pouring record amounts of cash into key Senate races set to determine which political party will take control over the upper house come November’s election, according to a new report published Tuesday by the Brennan Center for Justice.

The report, Election Spending 2014: 9 Toss-Up Senate Races (pdf), found that outside spending by undisclosed “dark money” groups is on track to “shatter previous records.” According to newly-released data from the Federal Elections Commission, of the nine hotly-contested senate races this year—Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, and North Carolina—all but one is expected to beat the previous record for most outside money spent in a senate race, $52.4 million in Virginia in 2012.

The most expensive race in terms of overall spending, North Carolina at $64.8 million, is set to beat the record “several times over.”

“[We]ak campaign finance laws and Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United have made possible new means of pumping money into elections while avoiding regulation or scrutiny,” said report author Ian Vandewalker. “These tactics are gradually becoming the national norm, and give wealthy spenders more power than ever to buy influence over our political process and elected officials.”

According to the nonpartisan law and policy center at the New York University School of Law, nonparty outside spending through September 30 amounts to $158.6 million in these nine most competitive races. “Outside groups have spent at a furious rate,” the authors note, especially when compared with the $97 million spent on all 37 contests in the 2010 midterms.

While the biggest spender overall is a Democratic-aligned Super PAC, the Senate Majority PAC at $29,083,280, the report found that outside spending in favor of Republicans is much more likely to be dark money, which thus far make up 80 percent of nonparty outside expenditures.

Another election spending phenomena highlighted in the new report is the rise of dark money, single-candidate groups, which, according to the authors, is a notable development in an election year where the balance of power rests on a few key races.

According to the survey, “six of the eight highest-spending candidate-specific groups hide some or all of their donors, including the top candidate-specific spender overall.” Further, many of those single-candidate groups depend on contributions from “double-dipping donors,” who have already given up to their legal limit in direct contributions to the candidate’s campaign.

Single-candidate groups also accept sizable contributions from corporations and unions, which are completely prohibited from giving directly to candidates, the report notes, adding that some of these groups “got all their revenue from these entities.”

When handing down the Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court “assumed that outside spending could not corrupt candidates because it comes from entities whose activity is independent of candidates’ campaigns,” the authors write. “The reality is that outside groups, some devoted to electing a single candidate, cooperate with candidates in many ways, potentially making their unlimited contributions as valuable to candidates as the direct contributions that are subject to strict caps.”

The BCJ report comes on the heels of another report put forth by the Wesleyan Media Project which found that outside groups are disproportionately funding advertisements favoring GOP candidates in both congressional and gubernatorial races.

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In Recognizing Palestinian State, Sweden And UK Legitimize Israeli Settler-Colonialism Wed, 22 Oct 2014 12:28:08 +0000 Though largely applauded as a promising first step toward broader recognition of the legitimacy of a Palestinian state, Sweden and the U.K.’s recognition of a Palestinian state, in fact, only further legitimizes Israel’s illegal, imperialist-backed colonization. Continue reading

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APTOPIX Mideast Israel PalestiniansFollowing the atrocities committed by Israel during Operation Protective Edge over the summer, which left over 2,000 civilians dead, including over 400 children massacred, Palestinian leaders have scrambled to return to diplomatic pathways in an attempt to establish recognition of a Palestinian state based upon dubious legitimacy. This legitimacy would ultimately help bring Palestine’s case against Israel for war crimes at the International Criminal Court — something Palestinians have not been able to do without recognition of Palestinian statehood.

In what appeared to be a promising first step, both Sweden and the United Kingdom made international headlines by recognizing a Palestinian state, but only within the 1967 borders — which means supporting a two-state solution: one Arab for Muslims and Christians, and one for Jews. While this recognition has been applauded, it has also been rightly criticized for still legitimizing Israel’s illegal occupation and the Zionist colonization of Palestinian territory and the ethnic cleansing that took place in 1948, when Israel was established as a state by imperialist nations on historic Palestine.

But, on Nov. 15, 1988, the Palestinian Liberation Organization issued its Declaration of Independence, in which Zionist colonization was eliminated from the narrative to shift the focus to “military occupation” — a convenient term for Western powers. Additionally, the text refers to the United Nations’ Partition Plan (Resolution 181) as providing legitimacy for a Palestinian state, despite the obvious international conspiracy to accommodate Zionist colonial ideology in practice, which means a Jewish-only state, ethnically cleansing the native Muslim and Christian Palestinian populations from historic Palestine.

Hence, the contradiction within the text exhibiting the PLO’s willingness to compromise on historic Palestine:

“Despite the historical injustice inflicted on the Palestinian Arab people resulting in their dispersion and depriving them of their right to self-determination, following upon UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (1947), which partitioned Palestine into two states, one Arab [Muslim & Christian], one Jewish, yet it is this resolution that still provides those conditions of international legitimacy that ensure the right of the Palestinian Arab people to sovereignty.”

The two-state “solution”

The deterioration of Palestinians’ rights to territory and memory commenced with the Zionist settler-colonial project which, through implementation, dates back to 1882. As Palestinian resistance forces negotiated with imperialist powers like the U.K. to achieved a corrupt form of legitimacy, discourse on behalf of the Palestinian leadership contributed to the upholding of Zionist and imperialist narratives to the detriment of Palestinian memory. Liberation of historic Palestine was forsaken in favor of an imperialist-supported two-state conspiracy that is internationally deemed a “solution.”

It is within this context that the recent symbolic overtures to recognize Palestine as a state should be analyzed. While Israel is incensed by Sweden and the U.K.’s recent moves to recognize a Palestinian state, it is just as important to realize that symbolism requires that a framework transpires into reality. Given the imperialist rhetoric about the two-state conspiracy, recognition of Palestine is being based upon the permanent fragmentation of Palestinian territory – with the ultimate aim of strengthening Israel’s imperialist-supported colonial state.

Recognition of a Palestinian state is not a new concept, which makes the recent overtures a continuation of previous recognitions also based upon adherence to the two-state conspiracy.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven issued a statement clarifying the government’s decision – namely, the contradictory insistence upon recognizing the legitimate demands of Palestinians and Israel’s alleged “national self-determination and security.” Löfven noted, “A two-state solution requires mutual recognition and a will to coexist peacefully. Therefore, Sweden will recognize the State of Palestine.”

The statement was reconfirmed by the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström, who tweeted: “Recognising Palestine: Important step towards a two-state solution. Both sides must be respected.”

On Oct. 13, the Parliament of the United Kingdom also expressed its stance in a non-binding vote that calls upon Britain to recognize Palestine. The motion explicitly states that “this house believes that the government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution.”

Predictably, the slightest indication of recognition in favor of Palestine, despite the possibility of continuing negative implications for Palestinians, has raised the ire of Israeli officials. The Embassy of Israel in London issued a statement about prioritizing negotiations ahead of statehood for Palestinians. “Sending a message to Palestinians that they do not need to make hard choices for peace, and to Israelis that their concerns are of no import, only undermines the efforts of those working to bring about a real and lasting change,” it asserts.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement echoing this notion, saying, “Premature international recognition sends a troubling message to the Palestinian leadership that they can evade the tough choices that both sides have to make, and actually undermines the chances to reach a real peace.”

However, the concerns Israel flaunts about international recognition of Palestine conceal an underlying reality – a satisfaction that, despite the recent developments, international recognition of a Palestinian state will not jeopardize the existence, and indeed, the expansion of settler-colonialism in Palestine. On Oct.1, the Times of Israel reported on government approvals for the construction of 2,610 dwellings for colonial settlers in East Jerusalem — the latest in a series of colonization projects that were particularly prominent during the stalled U.S.-brokered negotiations. If any significance can be garnered from the symbolic gesture, it is a continued deterioration of Palestinian rights and territory under the guise of allegedly successful diplomacy.

Little has been mentioned about the ramifications of a hypothetical Palestinian state based upon fragments of Palestinian territory. Primarily, the move toward recognition based upon the two-state conspiracy obliterates the issue of settler-colonialism in Palestine and imperialist expansion in the Middle East.

A duplicitous scheme

The Palestinian Authority has long since proven its collaboration with Israel and U.S. imperialism through various forms of acquiescence, including the acceptance of Israel’s right to exist; ridiculing the right of return for all Palestinians; attempting repeatedly to marginalize and criminalize Palestinian resistance; bargaining for political prisoners’ freedom and ceding further land for settlement expansion; insisting upon the resumption of negotiations with Israel and its imperialist allies; attempting to secure recognition from countries such as France, whose pro-Zionist stance has been repeatedly confirmed; and holding sacred the issue of security-coordination with Israel’s security services, for which it receives compensation from the United States.

As Khaled Barakat, a leader of the Central Committee of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, stated:

“Security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and the occupation state is also a U.S. policy, not just as a political position but as a practical matter – its implementation is supervised by the U.S., reports are sent to a U.S. general, because this is the condition under which the P.A. security agencies are funded and supplied, technically and financially.”

With Palestinian leaders, especially in the aftermath of the formation of the unity government, willing to consolidate the compromise of relinquishing Palestine according to the hegemonic narrative perpetrated by Israel, the recent symbolic recognition from Sweden and the U.K. constitute nothing but an additional affirmation of Palestine’s deterioration through an internationally-accepted compromise.

Israel’s settler-colonial state — an entity that has proven profitable to its imperialist-aligned allies — is the major factor standing in the way of Palestine reclaiming all of its territory and independence. Symbolic recognition of Palestine based upon a compromised proposal designed to give Israel the absolute right to colonize should not be hailed as an achievement.

Rather, it should be understood that Palestinian sovereignty and independence remains an impossible achievement if Israel’s right to colonize, plunder and massacre to the detriment of the indigenous population is acknowledged, wrongly legitimized and permanently supported by the same international community that hypocritically hails the Palestinian Authority’s duplicitous democracy scheme as a solution for Palestine.

The post In Recognizing Palestinian State, Sweden And UK Legitimize Israeli Settler-Colonialism appeared first on MintPress News.

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