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Tax Inversions and the Dems Who Love Them

Jordan Fraade   July 25, 2014
Amsterdam photo by  Diziet "I Like Toast"

Corporations are people, my friend. Just like human people, they will go to absurd lengths to reduce their income-tax liability, and just like human people, they can move to another country if the one they live in doesn’t suit them. So in that sense, when the generic drug company Mylan announced that it was renouncing its U.S. citizenship to become reincorporated in the Netherlands, it was just another example of a growing trend of so-called “tax inversions.” The method is fairly simple: American companies acquire foreign firms, and then reincorporate in those firms’ home countries to take advantage of their lower tax rates.

Business as usual, right? But a bizarrely obsequious piece on the Mylan move by Andrew Ross Sorkin caught the eye of National Journal’s Ron Fournier because of one intriguing detail: The CEO of Mylan, Heather Bresch, is the daughter of a U.S. senator, Joe Manchin. “This is the sort of story that makes blood boil in populists,” wrote Fournier, and even for Fournier’s many critics, it would be hard to argue with his basic conclusion that the system is rigged. For a CEO to wax poetic about her patriotism (Bresch’s company owes its revenue to Americans’ out-of-whack healthcare spending), complain that she can’t get an audience in D.C. (her father, again, is a senator), and then bolt for European shores for a marginally lower tax rate (to the land of un-American things like bicycles and euthanasia!)—this is the stuff that stereotypes about horse-trading and hypocrisy in our capital are made of.

Manchin, it must be said, has criticized his daughter’s actions. In an interview with Fournier, he said he’d support a bill to ban tax inversions. And after Mylan first announced its plans to move, Manchin said he was “disappointed,” though he did it in a way that implied he’s more disappointed in us for not cutting corporate tax rates further. But while Fournier identifies the chicanery of this whole situation, he doesn’t go further, to ask why Manchin’s daughter can make this sort of arrangement so easily.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   July 25, 2014
White people at work. / Photo by Sophia Jones.

White people at work. / Photo by Sophia Jones.

• Here is a tale of a journalist and a programmer who set out to make an interactive graphic of diversity in top editorial positions in American newsrooms, and failed. “As it turns out, there isn’t really enough data to make an interactive graphic about diversity among top newsroom editorial positions that doesn’t make you have to squint to see the racial breakdown in the first place—because there isn’t really any racial diversity at all,” writes Manjula Martin at Scratch Magazine. “The results are barely improved when it comes to gender.” (Via Poynter.)

• A scathing column by Julie Burchill in The Spectator invites us to “Meet the new faces of nepotism: The old paths to the top for working-class children–sport, music, acting, writing–are increasingly closed.” Now more than ever, talent and hard work aren’t the most important ingredients for success; having been born to the right parents is, Burchill argues.

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Why Aetna Should Pay Reparations

Hannah K. Gold   July 24, 2014
A 1775 ad placed by a New Jersey slave owner looking for a slave who had run away, and offering a reward for his return. (Via public domain.)

“This is a civil rights bill—this is reparations,” Rush Limbaugh said of the Affordable Care Act back in 2010. As you might expect, he didn’t mean it in a good way. Limbaugh’s ability to condemn the Civil Rights Act and reparations in a single breath is an achievement of insolence. But though Limbaugh can get down with the dirtiest of this country’s democracy-loving dirtbags, that doesn’t mean his views should be dismissed as “fringe.” A large portion of America has more obliquely expressed this same fiercely ideological, race-based fear of the ACA’s promise to serve up genuine health care justice. Study after study of Americans’ attitudes toward health care reform show this much.

Fast-forward to May 2014, when the dialogue about reparations began to sound quite different. Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his blockbuster essay for The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” re-opened and re-shaped the discussion around the possibilities for political and economic reparations for black Americans. “As surely as the creation of the wealth gap required the cooperation of every aspect of the society bridging it will require the same,” Coates wrote.

Still, while progressives may be making ideological strides when it comes to framing the conversation about racial justice (whether or not it ever results in material restitution), conservatives own the health-care-as-reparations narrative, hands down. But they shouldn’t, seeing as how twenty-four states are refusing to expand their Medicaid programs under the ACA, which also happens to provide the loophole. This gap affects an estimated 4.3 million people—mostly in states with Republican-controlled legislatures—and has a disproportionate effect on poor people of color.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   July 24, 2014
Photo by Mikey

Photo by Mikey

• Today in Billionaires, from the Guardian: The UK’s National Union of Journalists has dubbed Richard Desmond “Britain’s Greediest Billionaire” after the media company he owns proposed to cut a third of all editorial staffers from the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday.

• Today in Billionaires Bonus, from Forbes: Singapore real estate magnate Zhong Sheng Jian gives us all a “tip for success,” and you may not be surprised to hear that we must #innovate or #die.

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Geoff Dyer’s Idle Days at Sea

Bijan Stephen   July 23, 2014
DyerBook

Over the arc of his long career, Geoff Dyer has cultivated a certain style. If reviews are to be believed, his carefully crafted technique is a higher achievement than the substance of his books themselves. In his latest book, we finally see its limitations, as we watch the book collapse under the weight of his own style and the burden of his chosen subject.

Another Great Day At Sea: Life Aboard the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush (Pantheon, 208 pages, $24.99) is ostensibly an account of a fourteen-day ride-along on the Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier in its title. Dyer’s sojourn takes place in 2011—around the time the Arab Spring came to Bahrain, referred to here as “the beach”—in some classified location within the vast blueness of the Persian Gulf.

Dyer has two Sancho Panzas with him, a photographer whom he dismissively refers to as “the snapper” and Ensign Paul Newell, a shipmate. The plot is unsurprisingly sparse—it turns out that a military aircraft carrier, when not at war, is a dull place to be—and goes like this: Dyer arrives onboard, where each day he’s taken to a different part of the ship, from the gym, to the brig, to the flight deck, to the morgue. The book sees him roaming relatively freely, interviewing crewmates on their lives and histories and feelings and dreams. The cumulative effect is hazy, unmoored—the ship an unchanging, gunmetal sameness painted onto the equally constant sea.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   July 23, 2014
alley2

Photo by Eden, Janine, and Jim

•  “The City of New York approved a proposal by one of the largest real estate developers in the city to build in a ‘poor door’, or a separate door for residents living in affordable housing to enter their building,” writes the Daily Mail from New York Post reports. “Extell’s proposal allows them to force affordable housing tenants to walk through an entrance located in a back alley behind the building to enter, leaving the more prominent front entrance for tenants paying for nicer apartments.” 

• Great Ideas in Finance Headline of the Day, from Dealbook: “Cash Crops With Dividends: Financiers Transforming Strawberries Into Securities.” 

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Weighing the Price of Safety in OSHA’s New Video Game

OSHAgame

In recent years, one of the most fertile markets for gaming technology has been training and education, with games being used to train people in everything from scooping ice cream to running disaster relief programs. With its Web-based game, the Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA) has hopped on the wagon toward this new frontier in its efforts to help reduce workplace hazards. The stakes are high: a bad game, lacking impact and immediacy, could bore players instead of enlightening them. In the case of OSHA’s game, the potential consequences are much more dire.

Titled the Hazard Identification Training Tool, the game was developed for OSHA by Etcetera Edutainment of Pittsburgh, PA. The game, which OSHA’s website says is “aimed at entrepreneurs and managers,” seeks to encourage owners of small businesses to identify and head off common workplace risks. It does so, however, within a curious context, telling them to make their safety improvements without cutting into their all-important profits. In fact, the game’s instructions tell the player that the main goal is to “Maximize your profits in 20 weeks.”

Framing the choices it offers players as mere financial cost-benefit transactions seems a peculiar decision for a regulatory agency, and it raises some significant questions about OSHA’s role in the workplace. Should OSHA be teaching business owners that it’s okay to avoid addressing potential safety risks, just to help the bottom line? The game’s design appears to send the message to employers that profits are to be valued and preserved above all else. Here’s the game’s trailer:

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   July 22, 2014
My cat appreciates the finer things in life, like me. / Photo by _BuBBy_

My cat appreciates the finer things in life, like me. / Photo by _BuBBy_

• The Reports Are In: “With four out of five pet owners considering their pet a member of the family and 79% saying the quality of their pet’s food is as important as their own, it’s not surprising that the premium sector accounted for 40% of the $26 billion U.S. pet food market in 2013; superpremium accounted for 10%,” according to an Institute of Food Technologies report on gourmet food industry growth. “Adding excitement to a pet’s diet via flavors, gravies, look-a-like human recipes, daypart foods (e.g., breakfast food/eggs or appetizers) was a top driver of the best-selling new pet foods in 2013…. Energy bars are among the new pet treats; pet beverages remain an enormous untapped opportunity.”

• “Close the Libraries and Give Everyone an Amazon Kindle Unlimited Subscription,” helpfully suggests this Forbes columnist. Get worse!

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