insidious greed – HSBC

If you’ve not been following along today, it’s well worth reading back through the BBC Business Live News feed on the HSBC Tax Avoidance scandal. It is indeed the perfect example of the sort of insidious greed that is destroying society today.

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It’s not just the “me” culture that is all around us, but the industry and culture that is behind it. Rather than pay taxes now, there is a whole industry on tax-avoidance. It’s become an accepted practice, mostly illegal, certainly immoral and to deflect interest in their actions, just like with the bully at school, they deflect criticism and investigation away from their own failings, by making a big deal about those who can least defend themselves.

The amount of tax avoided, mostly illegally, by the HSBC 7,000 will have gone along way to dealing with many of challenges that the UK is currently facing, and the austerity measure they are taking.

Add to that the same offshore tax dodges being employed by large companies, and the industry of sleeze ball consultants, awarded for advising, aiding, and making this possibly, doing everything from advising, writing, and ultimately even joining governments to implement tax policy that facilitates this has got to stop.

It’s easier to blame welfare cheats, immigrants, in fact anyone than themselves. Here in Texas we have both past Governor Perry, and current Governor Abbott continually railing against the Federal Government. Under Governor Perry, we had the HHSC(Ed: no relation) contract scandal, with the State going with a no-bid contract, with little oversight and unclear results to again go after the “little people“. It’s much easier to make them the problem than deal with the problem of insidious greed of the wealthy and their legions of shills.

hsbc taxWatch this extract from the BBC Panorama show to get a quick summary, or read the summary here.

Freedom of Information, your Texas?

If Governor-elect Abbott continues like State Attorney General Abbott, Texas will be seen increasingly like a 3rd world banana Republic, than a first world economy and US super state. In the modern connected world, successful governments and organizations thrive on openness and transparency. The people don’t need to be told everything all the time, they do though have both the right and have the confidence to know their government and politicians are acting lawfully.

2014-11-02 22.57.06Congratulations to Governor Elect Greg Abbott.

Here is hoping that Governor Elect Abbott will understand the big difference between being Attorney General and being Governor. As attorney general he used his legal knowledge, and qualifications to hide, obfuscate and in some cases flat out refused to allow disclosure of reasonable information to the public about the operation of their government, and the state.

The picture above is taken from last weeks Austin American Statesman front page. It doesn’t matter if I, or you, agree with his politics, what should be beyond question is his (mis)use of the law to hide what he’d done. In this instance, the Statesman had applied for a copy of an abortion lobbyist/litigation-consultant contract to work with the Attorney Generals’ own office during the HB2 bill process in 2013. The contract became a big deal during the five-day federal court trial over HB2.

Abbott’s office refused to release the document saying it was exempt. In a strange reversal, after early voting closed, the Open Records Division allowed its’ release. Abbott tried to claim the consultant was a distraction, and there we have the problem. When government agencies are ashamed of its’ actions they look to bury the news, or hide the truth. The government becomes the problem, not the truth.

Other decisions that Attorney General Abbott has taken in the recent past where transparency was sacrificed and secrecy, confidentiality, and security were used include:

If Governor-elect Abbott continues like State Attorney General Abbott, Texas will be seen increasingly like a 3rd world banana Republic, than a first world economy and US super state. In the modern connected world, successful governments and organizations thrive on openness and transparency. The people don’t need to be told everything all the time, they do though have both the right and have the confidence to know their government and politicians are acting lawfully.

Governor-elect Abbott do you want to spend your time being a distraction, or are you actually going to lead?

Notes:

Power corrupts

And for the record, Lehmbergs arrest for drink driving was shameful, and yes she should of resigned. But because she didn’t doesn’t make it OK for the Governor to abuse his power to try to remove her. Don’t let the Lehmberg arrest though distract from the real issue, abuse of power and term limits.

Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely

Famously said by John Dalberg-Acton, the historian and moralist, first expressed this opinion in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887. I was reminded of it on Friday when it was announced that Governor Rick Perry of Texas had been indicted.

Abbott and PerryAlthough I’m clearly more of a social activist than Republican, Conservative, this post isn’t really about politics. It may or may not be that Perry has a case to answer. What is clear is that the lack of a term limit for the Governor of Texas has, as always, allowed the Governor to focus more on his succession, more on his politics, than the people that elected him and their needs.

I’m personally reminded of Margaret Thatcher, who enacted swathing changes in her time, but in her 3rd term, spent more time inward looking, in-fighting, that outward looking. More focused on those that would succeed her than what the country needed to succeed. Major, Howe, Heseltine, Lawson. et al.

jmmtThatcher these days is remembered mostly for consolidating her own power and the debacle that ended her reign rather than her true legacy, creating the housing crisis; and the banking crisis. Thatchers government started moving people to incapacity benefit rather than unemployment to hide the true state of the economy from the people. Blair, Brown, mostly the same, after a couple of years of shifting emphasis and politics it became the same farcical self protection.

And so it has become the same with Perry and his legacy. Irrespective of the merit of this indictment, what’s clear is that Perrys normal has changed to defending his legacy and Abbott. Abbott meanwhile moves to make as much as possible secret about Perrys activities. This includes the detail of Governor Perrys’ expense claims, sensitive, secret but not limited to that. Abbot also feels the location of chemical storage is also a threat to our liberty, and not to be easily publicly accessible. Redaction it would appear, is a lost art.

For the layman it is impossible to understand how/who/what of CPRIT affair is real. Was Abotts oversight of CPRIT politically motivated? Did Abbott really turn a blind eye to the goings on at CPRIT and did Perry and his staff know about and approve this?

British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) anIf they did, then their pursuit of Lehmberg is bogus, their attempts to stop the Public Integrity Unit(PIU), self serving, And there is the rub, it really doesn’t matter if it was legal or not. Perry needs to go, term limits should mandate not more than two sessions, and Abbott should be seriously questioned about his motivation, otherwise as Thatcher goes, Major goes; as Blair goes, so Brown goes; As Perry goes, so Abbott goes, and the result of too much power be shared out as a grace and favor does no one, not least the local tax payers any good at all.

And for the record, Lehmbergs arrest for drink driving was shameful, and yes she should of resigned. But because she didn’t doesn’t make it OK for the Governor to abuse his power to try to remove her. Don’t let the Lehmberg arrest though distract from the real issue, abuse of power and term limits.

Abbotts Texas Miracle

This week Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott continued to demonstrate that the Texas Miracle is based only on smoke and mirrors.

Zap, Pow, Sock it to 'em Abbott
Zap, Pow, Sock it to ’em Abbott

First up, Abbott claimed victory over the evil empire, the Federal Governments’ Environmental Protection Agency. Abbott has time and time again sued the EPA to try to get relief for Texas based businesses, claiming almost everything except the dog ate their homework. The only thing Abbott hasn’t denied is that Texas is the worst state when it comes to air pollution, and given it’s size and position, that pollution is a major contributor to US pollution and to pollution in other states. But, hey, apparently that’s too bad as the regulations would be too costly for Texas businesses to implement.

The truth is that Abbott won a battle to save small businesses from implementing these regulations, but lost the war, the coal plants and other major facilities will have to implement them. The EDF has a different perspective but comes to the same conclusion.

Meanwhile, Abbott(“What I really do for fun is I go into the office, [and] I sue the Obama administration.”) has been explaining the unexplainable, back-peddling on his order to restrict access to the hazardous Chemicals list. As posted last week “The Texas Freedom Illusion“, Abbott confirmed the ban of releasing information to the public as Tier II reports in the 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA).

Well it turns out, he’s explained his position. You, yes, you the people, have not lost your right to know under the EPCRA. If you want to know, apparently all you have to do is visit the plants or write them, and ask. Instead of letting concerned citizens check the state database, where businesses are required to register, the State is pushing handling costs on the business. The Daily KOS has a great piece on this, describing Abbotts remarks as “jaw dropping”. < Zap pow!

It can’t be because it’s more secure that way.because it sure isn’t anymore secure. I’m sure the terrorists would never think of that, after all, they didn’t think of taking private flying lessons pre-9/11… when they couldn’t get trained by the Government.

Meanwhile, Abbott has also been re-confirming that the Texas Miracle doesn’t come with workers compensation insurance, the only state in America to do so. The Texas Tribune this week published a damning report into the cost and effect of this on workers. For as little as $1.38, businesses could provide workers comp. but like that EPA cost, thats too much of a burden. The downside of this, i workers getting hurt, seriously hurt often have no medical coverage, that means you are and I are picking up the tab.

So, lets summarize. Abbott is running for Governor. He is

  • Not prepared to require businesses meet the same emissions standards they are elsewhere in the USA
  • Not prepared to require Workers Comp. insurance
  • Not prepared to provide citizens access to data the State has on dangerous chemical storage
  • Continues to sue the Presidents Administration, costing hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars, for no real purpose and little result

I’ll be protesting in the morning, Taxation with no representation, I can’t even vote for someone else, let alone against him. Zap Pow – Robin’ the people to pay for business.

The Texas Freedom Illusion

Governor Perry is well known for his brags that “the Lone Star State’s winning mix of low taxes, reasonable regulatory structure, fair court system and world-class workforce has been paying dividends” and bringing business to Texas, even when it isn’t true.

Courtesy the Dallas News
Courtesy the Dallas News

For the day to day Texan, their freedom is becoming increasingly an illusion too.

To have real freedom, you need choice. Increasingly Texans have no freedom, because they have no choice. This week, Attorney General Abbott confirmed the ban of releasing information to the public as Tier II reports in the 1986 Emergancy Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA).

What this means is, YOU, yes You! can no longer find out what dangerous chemicals are stored by businesses in your town, or your neighborhood. The sort of chemicals for example, that were the cause of the West, TX explosion last year. The Dallas Morning News in their research found 74 facilities that 10,000 Pounds or more of Ammonium nitrate or ammonium nitrate-based explosive material on site.

Given one of the startling discoveries post West, TX. that

“The fertilizer plant hadn’t been inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1985. Its owners do not seem to have told the Department of Homeland Security that they were storing large quantities of potentially explosive fertilizer, as regulations require. And the most recent partial safety inspection of the facility in 2011 led to $5,250 in fines”

wouldn’t you want to know this stuff was happening near your home, school, or work place? WFAA has a great video report showing Texas regulation at it’s best/worst. Confusion.

Gov. Perrys claim for low regulation is in fact obfuscated by the fact that plants like the one in West, TX are regulated by as at least seven different state and federal agencies. OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Feed and Fertilizer Control Service. If you think this creates a smooth, efficient, low cost and safe way of managing risk, then “good luck with that”.

The good news is Texas isn’t much worse than many others, at least we still have the ultimate freedom, to leave. Unless of course it’s via the Mexican border where Abbott continues to press for the Federal Government to be tougher, fence more, fence frequently border control. What Texas does a best is apparently marketing the illusion of freedom via the cheerleader in general, Gov. Perry.

Water rights, wrongs and stupidity in Texas

If Texans are to have the kind of rational water policy we deserve. All we need is a captain unafraid to take us there.

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The February 2014 issue of Texas Monthly magazine has a good article by Nate Blakeslee on the stupidity of water rights here in Texas.  His summary though is spot on. You can read it above.

The summary paragraph is a killer  ending with ” If Texans are to have the kind of rational water policy we deserve. All we need is a captain unafraid to take us there.”

Which surely can’t be Abbott given his private well to water his lawn, I assume?

Abbott, leads by example

And says FU to Texas water users.

Attorney general Abbott knows the law,  if nothing else. Texas is a property rights state,  along with which come a number of other rights,  not normally recognized as either good for the Commons,  or not allowed by law in a modern democracy.

Those rights include everything under the property,  which would obviously include oil  gas shale,  but in this instance include water. Abbott must like a green lawn, we all do, but for the most part it has become impractical and should be unaffordable to waste water on a lawn.

In what are record drought conditions with numerous businesses affected, boat docks, related people and business, plus the farmers and rice fields downstream from Austin getting more and more severe restrictions, you’d think the candidate for Governor of Texas would lead by example, apparently he is, he’s drilled a well on his property and is watering his lawn from it. This article in the Texas Tribune covers the details.

Abbott Stormy waterThis letter in the current Austin Chronicle, by Philip Russell explains why Abbott is wrong, either way. Doesn’t Texas deserve better than this?

In the interests of transparency, I have a sprinkler system, it was installed when the house was built and generally never gets used. I can’t say I’ve never used it, I have, but not this year. My neighbor replaced half the turf on my lawn to stop the weeds spreading to his lawn, I’ve not watered it since. Also, since our drains run directly into the creek and town lake, I won’t use weed killer or chemicals on the lawn.

[Update: 12/2/13. I guess this is Philip Russell the letters author.]

The long traveled road…

to 1010 Colorado St, Austin, TX

I’ve seen it many times over the years in business. A new guy shows up, he was unexpected. He seems fine at first and then he starts cleaning house, reorganising, people get fired, departments get cut and before you know it, he is gone. Paid off handsomely, publicly, because they wanted his silence, privately because he’d done his job, he was Leon, The Professional.

What happens next is the old guard regroup, they step out of the shadows and everything goes just the way they wanted it. The hired guy was the fall guy, the one to take the heat.

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Here in Texas we are a year out from the election for a new governor, and the race has most definitely started. Texas Monthly magazine October 2013 has a profile of who it calls unequivocally, “THE GOV*”  with the * denoting “barring an unlikely occurrence”  and it includes this picture.

In a long background piece on the current Texas attorney general,  Greg Abbott,  it says

  • “is a conservative’s conservative”
  • “has sued the Obama administration 27 times”
  • “Filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing that the Second Amendment provides citizens with an individual right to bear arms”

Abbott is my age, he represents and is focussed on appealing to the traditional Texas ol’ boys, guns, small government, low taxes, low regulation etc.

Texas monthly carries an article on the likely competitors to Abbott, but given Abbott resplendent with Shotgun and Wheelchair is featured on the front page, and their prediction, that Abbott will be “The Gov” barring an unlikely occurrence, you can’t take them too seriously.

Not so much what’s in, More what’s not.

More interesting, although explainable given the timing of the magazine print edition, and the announcement by Debra Medina, that she is considering a run for governor, as an Independent. Medina lost in the 2010 Republican Party Primary Election, taken by Governor Perry. Medina, had been raising money for a state comptroller bid, said, according to this Texas Tribune report, “has received millions of dollars in pledges on the condition that she instead run for governor as an independent.”. Would that make Medina, Leonora?

The Trib’ focuses on Medina ability to change the outcome of the election without either hinting or mentioning the Democratic front-runner, Wendy Davis. The Trib’ says “One way to win an election is to change the electorate. That’s not as nefarious as it might sound”.. “Another way is to split the votes among more than two candidates. In primaries, that often forces runoffs. In general elections, third-party candidates can sometimes grab enough votes to change the outcome.” And they go on to review Bush vs Clinton, and Perot.

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Who ever is offering Medina millions to run as an Independent for Governor, isn’t doing it to split the vote of the Republicans, she will be a shill, put in to collect the votes of the more liberal, center leaning Republicans, especially the growing, base of GOP Women voters. Those voters, even the more christian right, must be horrified by recent moves including State bill HB2 that will have a drastic effect on both womens services as well as the ability, choice and availability of a great number of womens services.

Given an appropriate campaign by Democrat Wendy Davis, there was always the chance Davis would not only been able to muster the democratic and independent candidates, but also those of many Republican women. With Medina in as a shill, she can appeal and win that vote, denying Davis. Heck, Medina can come in and participate in an all out catfight with Davis, while Abbott et al. wait in the shadows, only to appear on election night after the “public” dismal of Medina aka The Professional.