Apple fritters [u]

Sitting on an humongous wad of cash, Apple, Inc., can certainly afford to pay Ireland some $14 billion in taxes the European Commission says that it owes that country. The New York Times:

The decision, part of a broader crackdown on tax avoidance by the European Union commissioner for competition, slammed Ireland for providing illegal incentives that allowed Apple to cut its tax bill in the region to virtually nothing some years. The clawback of taxes — 13 billion euros, or about $14.5 billion, plus interest — is a record penalty by the union for such activities.

Ireland suffered mightily from the Great Recession. It can use the revenues. However, Apple’s Tim Cook said that the company would appeal the EU decision. That process could take years. Ireland may also appeal, asserting that it has a right to make whatever deals with corporations it wants.

______________

UPDATE Aug. 30, 2016:

Tim Cook publishes a letter.

A cartel and its impoverished workers

No, I will not be talking about some Latin American or Middle Eastern operation. Rather, I’ll be briefly discussing major league baseball, specifically its minor league affiliates.

But first a brief story about my almost-career in our “favorite pastime,” the sport of heroes and, more recently, multimillionaires.

Let’s go back to 1965, the first baseball draft ever. I was a headlines-grabbing pitcher for Mt. Diablo High School, located in Concord, Calif., about 30 miles or so east of San Francisco. The New York Mets took a chance on me, though not too big of one. My name was not called until days after Rick Monday became the first player ever drafted. My number was 660. The scout who recommended I be drafted, Mr. Partee, met with my parents and me in our cozy living room. While I had visions in my head of great fortune, the Mets thought otherwise, offering me a signing bonus of $5,000 and a salary of $500 a month to play baseball in some small West Virginia town I had never heard of. In the end, I opted to accept a scholarship to Cal, figuring that if I did any good in college, the scouts would take another look. A string of injuries and mostly less-than-stellar performances later, I found myself with a degree in history and no prospects for playing professional ball, though I continued to play semi-pro for several years thereafter.

One occasionally looks back at life’s forks in the road. Pace Yogi Berra, you have to choose one; you can’t take both. What if I had signed with the Mets? How would things be different?

Well, disturbing statistics suggest that I’d have lived in poverty for as many seasons as I might have survived in professional ball. Indeed, according to this article in the Washington Post:

More than 80 percent of draft picks will never reach the big leagues, and most live on salaries of less than $10,000 per season; the starting salary for a first-year player, paid only during the regular season, is $1,100 a month.

Some current and ex-minor leaguers are pushing back in a lawsuit against Major League Baseball. Here’s a summary from NBC News:

The class action suit, brought on behalf of minor leaguers for all 30 Major League teams, alleges violations of federal law requiring fair wages and overtime. Filed in February, and twice expanded ahead of a September hearing, Senne vs. MLB portrays minor league baseball players as the game’s exploited underclass. They toil year-round with no overtime, unpaid extra assignments, and no right to switch teams or renegotiate, the lawsuit alleges. In exchange, they get a maximum starting salary of $5,500—a sum far below minimum wage.

“No one is saying that minor leaguers should be getting rich,” says Garrett Broshuis, a minor league baseball player turned attorney who helped build the case. “But if McDonald’s and Wal-Mart can pay a minimum wage, then Major League Baseball can too.”

Remember: Liberty and justice for all.

Disastrous war

John Chilcot produced his report on the British government’s decision to go to war in and against Iraq. The conclusion couldn’t have been clearer: there was absolutely no legitimate reason to attack and invade Iraq. Moreover, the consequences of the fateful action were entirely foreseeable.

Writing for the London Review of Books, Philippe Sands summarizes the report’s contents and offers a running commentary. Sands:

Chilcot portrayed the Iraq War as a total failure of government. Two hundred British troops had been killed and many more were injured; 150,000 Iraqis had been killed ‘and probably many more – most of them civilians’; and more than a million people had been displaced. Lives were ruined; Islamic State has emerged in the aftermath, and Britain has been diminished.

Tony Blair, then prime minister, pledged his support for “whatever” George W. Bush decided. And “the decider” had made up his mind not long after 9/11 to go after Saddam Hussein, despite no evidence that Hussein had anything to do with the attacks of that day. During the interim between the decision and launching the war, Bush and Blair busied themselves with justifying their action.

Sands suggests that Blair’s complicity may have its own personal consequences.

Later that afternoon a defiant Tony Blair took to the airwaves. Chilcot had spoken for 25 minutes; Blair spoke for nearly two hours. Not for him the apology of his deputy, John Prescott, who wrote in the Sunday Mirror that, in view of the report, he now believed the war was ‘catastrophic’ and ‘illegal’. Blair instead defended himself, saying he’d take ‘the same decision’ again. This unhappy intervention will not do him any favours. It makes it more likely he will be pursued, perhaps for contempt of Parliament, or by civil claims, or claims of misfeasance in public office. He might even face worse, a possibility raised in the resignation letter tendered in 2003 by the Foreign Office legal adviser Elizabeth Wilmshurst, whose position has been vindicated by the inquiry:

I regret that I cannot agree that it is lawful to use force without a second Security Council resolution … I cannot in conscience go along with advice within the Office or to the public or Parliament – which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances which are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law.

Awful ruling a killer

The U.S. Supreme Court, against its own precedents and common sense, decided that the Second Amendment provides an individual right to own and use firearms, regardless of outcomes. The case was District of Columbia v. Heller. Writing for The Nation magazine, Dorothy Samuels declares the decision utterly wrong in nearly every respect, and, in particular, by rejecting the qualifying clause at the beginning of the amendment.

To grasp the audacity of what Scalia & Co. pulled off, turn to the Second Amendment’s text: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” To find in that wording an individual right to possess a firearm untethered to any militia purpose, the majority performed an epic feat of jurisprudential magic: It made the pesky initial clause about the necessity of a “well regulated Militia” disappear. Poof! Gone. Scalia treated the clause as merely “prefatory” and having no real operative effect—a view at odds with history, the fundamental rules of constitutional interpretation, and the settled legal consensus for many decades.

“The Second Amendment was a response to concerns raised during the ratification of the Constitution that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several states,” then-Justice John Paul Stevens correctly noted in his minority opinion, joined by Justices David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer. “Neither the text of the Amendment nor the arguments advanced by its proponents evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature’s authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms.”

We should all appreciate that who accedes to the White House makes all the difference this November. Recall that Mr. Marmalade intoned that he would nominate another Scalia. Talk about blood on the hands.

Weep for America

Tragedies abound, here in the good old USA. Judging by the concerted inaction among those parading as our representatives to stop the mayhem and bloodshed, we can look forward to more of the same, if not worse.

Indeed, on nearly every issue that matters, from health care and employment security to skewed priorities favoring military spending over basic services like education and guaranteed pensions, America’s elected officials consign us to an ugly, nasty, and brutish existence. Except, of course, for the billionaires, who have fashioned a legislative-economic-and-political system that redounds to their benefit, while the Rest of Us practice a crude, spiteful form of social Darwinism. The many must fend for themselves against increasingly miserable odds.

Much of this was brought into sharp, albeit somewhat ironic relief in the newest film by Michael Moore, Where to Invade Next. I commend the movie to you, but here is the quick takeaway: most European countries have those basic services as a matter of right and culture. The promise of our Constitution’s Preamble is being fulfilled elsewhere. Meanwhile, we Americans have been beaten down, denied necessities, and been forced to worship at the altar of unbridled capitalist greed.

I mentioned culture. The many people interviewed by Moore across Europe embraced their countries’ general welfare policies as common-sense givens, integral to the widespread notion that decent society demands people care for one another. Let’s take a quick look.

Moore spoke with several Italians who benefit from extended vacations, holidays, and generous family-leave programs. Italians, both business owners and their employees, believe that happy, well-rested workers make for improved productivity and company balance sheets. Despite receiving upwards of two months or more of paid time off, Italian productivity is just a shade lower than America’s, said Moore.

In Portugal, drug possession and use has been decriminalized completely. As a consequence, usage has plummeted, in part because the Portuguese spend resources on curing addictions. America’s wars on drugs, in contrast, targeting mostly African-Americans, has stocked our nation’s burgeoning prison system. Moore suggests that America reintroduced slavery via its draconian drug policies. And it was no accident.

Moore took us to a public school in France. The cafeteria, to be exact. There a full-time chef plans and produces three-star meals for children, who sit at round tables to which food is delivered by servers. No greasy pizzas. No cans of soda pop. Nothing that is found in the typical American child’s lunch. All healthy stuff, with plenty of vegetables and fruit, eaten over a leisurely hour or so.

In Slovenia Moore found American students earning degrees from that countries’ universities. And get this, at no cost to themselves. Education is completely free, and there is no such thing as student debt. The benefit is afforded to anyone from anywhere, and a hundred or more classes are taught in English.

Workers comprise half the corporate boards of German companies. Moore visited the Farber pencil company. He interviewed workers and managers alike. They reported that the employee involvement in decisions at all levels yielded a better-functioning workplace. Moreover, employees earned a living wage, supplemented by free health care, of course.

What about education? Moore flew north to Finland. I’ve written often about Finnish lessons. (Just search for the term on this site.) Finland completely reformed its education system, which bans private charter schools, by the way. That system is now the envy of the world. Shocking to Americans bombarded by Race to the Top, and No Child Left Behind, not to mention the excessive impositions of Bill Gates, et al.—Finnish children spend the least amount of time in the classroom of all OECD children. They do no homework, and there are no standardized tests.

Iceland was the first nation to elect a woman to its highest political office. That was in 1980, five years after a nationwide strike by women. Today, political bodies and company boards must have at least 40 percent of their membership female, though no gender can exceed 60 percent. During the 2008 global economic crisis, those Icelandic banks led by men all failed. The one dominated by women survived. Also, and worth noting, the male bankers are now spending time in a remote prison. No prominent U.S. banker was ever prosecuted. One woman CEO interviewed by Moore said that she could never live in America, because America is all about the individual and getting more of everything. There is no sense of caring for others, demanded of a decent society. Amen.

I admit to shedding a tear for what could be here in America. We could have all the services and cultural amenities enjoyed by our European counterparts. Indeed, as Moore emphasized at the end of his film, most of the ideas that have become reality in Europe had their origins in the U.S., including the abolition of the death penalty (Michigan in 1846). The Finnish education transformation is based on the teachings of John Dewey, an American philosopher and educator. The Equal Rights Amendment predated Iceland’s woman’s movement, though its ratification failed by three of the 50 states.

Alas, we’re confronted by a growing fascist spectacle and a citizen-less democracy. You, too, should weep for America.

 

Swift and certain

Why do people misbehave and so often? Research suggests that lack of swift and certain apprehension and punishment encourages criminal behavior. If we know that authorities are absent or, if present, will do next to nothing should we transgress, we do bad things—over and over.

The linked article above focuses initially on traffic situations. Those of us who drive cars know something about such things. I, for one, avoid the freeways as much as possible, save for Fridays, when my wife and I must join the muck to head from Everett to Seattle, where our grandkids reside. It’s a treat well worth the effort, mind you. And, with some exceptions, the trip is decent enough, mostly because we can drive in the HOV lane, bypassing the vehicular goo to our right.

Yet, I am nevertheless bothered by the prevalence of bad drivers. My biggest irritant are those who immediately drive into the leftmost lane, then stay there as if they are masters of the domain. Meanwhile, other motorists join the queue behind them, all growing more anxious with each mile of impedance.

In Washington state it is against the law to drive in the leftmost freeway lane unless to pass another vehicle. Yeah, right. There are sparsely located signs indicating as much. No matter. Motorists flout the law, exercising what, for them, is their god-given right to seize a 12-foot-wide corridor for their exclusive use. Other motorists be damned.

Well, those increasingly anxious trailers must feel bottled up, which they are. That’s when things can go ugly.

Freeway travelers cannot help but notice skid marks on the freeways, indicators of vehicle collisions, some ending in horrible death. Many collisions result from over-anxious drivers seeking an escape from the congealed line of backed-up cars in the left lane. The would-be escapees sometimes miscalculate. They believe that they’ve discovered an opening, only to misjudge space and time.

In my previous life I made a living as a traffic accident reconstructionist. I would be called to a scene after the fact to survey the remnants of a collision, involving one or more vehicles. I would measure the skid marks, damaged vehicles, the scene itself, and whatever appeared related to the incident under investigation. Having gathered the evidence, I would then apply Newton’s laws and other appropriate physics and math to determine who did what.

One of the most spectacular effects of a collision occurs in relatively minor freeway accidents. Let’s explore one example.

Say that you are one of those motorists stuck behind a stubborn or otherwise oblivious domain-master. After several minutes, your patience ends. You’ve got to escape. You spot an opening to your right in the center lane. So you accelerate while moving in that direction. But you misjudge distances. In your maneuver the left front of your car clips the right rear of the car ahead of you that you’re trying to pass.

This seemingly little nudge produces extraordinary effects. The domain-master’s car is suddenly rotated counter-clockwise, putting the vehicle into a yaw and propelling it sharply left and out of the leftmost lane.

If we assume that the vehicles are traveling over 60 mph, which is most often the case in that left lane, the mishap can have dire consequences. The domain-master’s car may collide with a car to its left (e.g., in the HOV lane) or into an embankment or protective barrier. The sudden deceleration upon hitting another object at high speeds is what kills and maims.

If domain-masters knew that their obstructionist behavior would be quickly and consistently recognized and stopped by the Washington State Patrol, then, according to the linked article, there would be fewer such motorists and, therefore, fewer accidents involving impatient drivers. From the article:

In other words, people respond to how likely they are to get in trouble. So on roads where cops are more likely to pull over people for bad driving, maybe drivers are more likely to adhere to speed limits and avoid anything that might look like reckless driving.

I would change the enforcement emphasis, however. I’d sanction less the speeder and more the obstructionist.

Do you even deserve to live?

Reading the articles on the work-requirement facet of the welfare law boils the blood, if you happen to care about others. Consider this Crosscut piece by Drew Atkins. He writes:

Under new requirements, individuals are now limited to three months of food assistance in any three-year period, unless they work 80 hours a month, or participate in a sufficient number of trainings and volunteer programs. These requirements apply to adults between 18 and 49 who do not have disabilities or dependents.

These requirements have been on hold since 2009, due to the widespread and persistent unemployment following Wall Street’s crash. The boost in food stamp benefits has been attributed, in-part, to preventing poverty and homelessness rates from skyrocketing.

The requirements are being re-imposed due to perceptions that employment rates have sufficiently recovered in parts of the country. Federal waivers have been sought and granted for areas whose employment numbers remain low, which is why only certain segments of Washington are effected [sic].

sic] [However, this year Republicans in the State Senate attempted to forbid any part of Washington from seeking a waiver, regardless of how few jobs were in them. Many thousands more people would lose food assistance under the bill —  SB 5776 — which has been reintroduced in two consecutive sessions and four special sessions.

You see, the damn Republicans are busy again screwing the 47 Percent. It must be in their DNA to blame the victim. The virtues of compassion and empathy encounter a solid brick wall when trying to enter conservative hearts and minds.

That said, we remind ourselves that it was William Jefferson Clinton who boasted that he had ended “welfare as we know it,” championing then signing a draconian piece of congressional legislation that essentially criminalized being poor. But the Clintons have never been in league with the Rest of Us, preferring the baubles and trinkets of the elite, a class to which they have always aspired.

In a country founded on rights, why do so many Americans abhor the letter and intent of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948 and ratified by dozens of countries, including the United States? Take Article 1 of the document. It reads:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Or take Article 25:

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

The Declaration, by the way, has the force of international law. But we are Americans. We get to do what we want, even ignore stuff to which we once agreed. And the thing we evidently want to do at the moment is kick people when they are down. Oh, and ape the rich, if we can.