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The New York Times isn't fawning over Apple the way all too many senators did when CEO Tim Cook dropped in to talk taxes.

Even before last week’s Senate hearing on Apple, it was clear that the aggressive use of tax havens and other tax avoidance tactics had become standard operating procedure for global American companies.

Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard were the focus of a similar Senate hearing last September, while Google, Amazon and Starbucks have drawn recent scrutiny in Europe. And, of course, there is General Electric, which achieved a perfect zero on its United States tax bill in 2010. In fact, G.E. was reputed to have the world’s best tax avoidance department until Apple came along with tactics to stash some $100 billion in Ireland without paying taxes on much of it anywhere in the world and, apparently, without breaking any law.

That oft-stated truism that corporations have an obligation only to their shareholders, and are breaking the law if they don't do everything to maximize profit? Yeah, that's not true. Never was. Until a few decades ago, many corporations -- including Perfect Zero G.E. -- put making their shareholders rich at the bottom of their list of priorities, well behind contributing to their communities and providing fair salaries for their employees. What changed wasn't the law. It was corporate culture.

Dodging taxes is just part of a culture that approves of companies keeping salaries down while putting $100B in the bank, cheers for high margins while workers are forced to demonstrate higher and higher levels of "productivity," and looks the other way when the CEO is paid $378 million (Tim Cook, 2011) while workers make less than $5000 a year.

Come on in. Let's see what else is going on this morning.


You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

Maureen Dowd wonders if President Obama can shake the constitutional damage done by President Dubya.

Do we dare to hope that the Bush administration is finally at an end?

After four years of bending the Constitution, the constitutional law professor now in the White House is trying to unloose the Gordian knot of W.’s martial and moral overreaches after 9/11.

Safely re-elected, President Obama at long last spoke bluntly about the Faustian deals struck by his predecessor, some of them cravenly continued by his own administration.

In a speech at the National Defense University, Obama talked about how we “compromised our basic values,” and he concluded with a slap at W.: “Our victory against terrorism won’t be measured in a surrender ceremony at a battleship or a statue being pulled to the ground.”

See, Maureen? Stop trying to make silly prom metaphors and you get to go places. Like this page.

Doyle McManus takes a deeper look at Obama's defense speech.

President Obama's speech last week on the future course of America's 11-year-old war against Al Qaeda was long overdue.

Never before has he offered the public such a detailed explanation of his anti-terrorism strategy. In part, that's surely because so much of it was officially secret — but also because the public hasn't demanded a position more nuanced than "tough on terrorism."

The president did three big things in his speech Thursday at the National Defense University in Washington. He argued that America's fight against terrorism should be narrower and more sharply focused. He formalized, in particular, new limitations on drone strikes. And he promised that the war against Al Qaeda will end someday.

Like it or not, this speech is likely to define Obama's legacy a decade from now.

Catherine Rampell has bad news for anyone hoping to build their own blimp... or fans of common sense.

The values of gold and silver have dropped like a stone in international trading markets. Coffee futures are hovering near a three-year low. But the price of one commodity has been rising as if it were lighter than air — and in this case, well, it is.

The market value of refined helium gas has nearly doubled over the past five years, even as the Standard & Poor’s benchmark commodities index, the GSCI, has fallen by some 20 percent. ...

What makes this market saga particularly quirky, though, is the role played by the United States government. For much of the 20th century, the federal government had a domestic monopoly on the production of helium, which was used for airships, missile guidance and other national security measures. In 1960, it began a program to stockpile the helium it was extracting in an underground reservoir near Amarillo, Tex., amassing a debt of $1.3 billion in the process.

Short version: Congress passed a law forcing the government to sell off the helium reserve in about the stupidest way possible. The revenues generated are small, the impact on the market large, and both health and science research are threatened. In the meantime, I'm socking away tanks of helium in my basement (yes, really).

Dana Milbank notes that the real winner of the election was, as usual, the 1%

On Thursday, senators held a confirmation hearing for Obama’s nominee to be commerce secretary: a billionaire who benefits from offshore tax havens, whose family owned a failed savings and loan and who is accused by unions of mistreating workers.

Turns out the wealthy didn’t lose the 2012 election; rather, the Republican rich lost to the Democratic rich. ...

“You will certainly have my vote,” commerce committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (average estimated net worth: $103 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics) assured the nominee (net worth $1.85 billion, according to Forbes).

“My hope,” said Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner ($228 million), is that “this committee will recommend you.”

Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill ($22 million) told Pritzker, “I find it very refreshing to find someone who is stepping up like you are in this position.”

Another committee member, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut ($100 million), didn’t speak at the hearing but issued a statement calling the heiress “a longtime friend with a lifetime of business experience and acumen that will serve her well.”

Sometimes, you really long for a zombie uprising.

Robert Kaiser says the problems with Congress go beyond partisan differences.

Congress is a human institution with a distinct culture, and the modern version of that culture is hostile to creative problem-solving. If we have a mediocre Congress — even when it manages to accomplish something — it is because of the people in it and the culture they have created.

The men and women who now run for Congress have special features. Most of them are much wealthier than their constituents. Surprisingly few have strong policy interests or experience. Most are willing to spend a day or two or three each week asking strangers for money on the telephone, a demeaning but obligatory exercise. Most have internalized an ethical code that allows them to solicit campaign contributions from people directly affected by legislation they vote on. This is not rare or even unusual — it’s standard.

Again, it doesn't matter what you think is the most important issue facing the nation. That issue won't be solved until the connection between huge dollars and politics is smashed. If you think that can never happen, then don't bother looking for solutions on anything else.

Max Plotkin doesn't think much of Virginia's all Tea Party, all the time GOP lineup.

One candidate stood out right away. There was a sea of red baseball hats with yellow lettering bearing the name “Jackson” and the slogan “Let liberty light the way for Virginia.” No other candidate had hats. Hats carried the day!

E.W. Jackson was a political nobody when he ran in 2012 against George Allen for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate. Relegated as “fringe,” he finished a distant fourth. But last weekend Jackson was the story, the steak and the sizzle. He gave a stemwinder of a speech. Even country-club Republican Jay Garner of Westmoreland County, attired in seersucker with a perfectly tied bow tie, told me Jackson was the only candidate that “brought them to their feet.” He said that Jackson “can rally folks” and “tells it like it is.”

Jackson is a dazzling eclectic: an African American, a Marine Corps veteran, a Harvard Law grad and a practicing preacher from Chesapeake. He has also made life difficult for himself and his party with inflammatory rhetoric, such as this: “Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was.”

Chris Lee talks about what it's really like to work in a scientific field.
One of the great untold stories in science is the process of science itself. I don't mean stories about what scientists have discovered and what those discoveries tell us; we (and many others) cover those every day. ...

What's missing is the background for these stories of discovery. How do you take an idea from its beginning as a casual musing all the way through an actual research program? What's involved in that process? How do you sort out the good ideas from the bad and choose what to pursue and what to abandon? That's the story I want to tell.

To understand how I choose between good ideas and bad ideas, we need to step back from actual physics and science and take a look at the structure of the research community that I work in. Research takes resources. I don't mean money—all right, I do mean money—but it also requires time, people, lab space, and support. There is a human and physical infrastructure that I have to make use of. I may be part of a research organization, but I have no automatic right of access to any of this infrastructure.

Read this, and you'll understand something of the effort and drive it takes to make it in science.
Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Devil's Tower on Sat May 25, 2013 at 10:49 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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