Offshore Incorporated

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Offshore Incorporated

***

 

A few years back, Conservatives believed in the positive power of the free market. Their fundamental mission was to keep meddling government out of the way of business.

Meanwhile, Liberals believed in the positive power of government. Their fundamental mission was to use the power of the State to keep naughty corporations in check.

Those days are gone. I don’t see that the Left and the Right have any philosophical differences anymore. We are just two tribes of sworn enemies. We are separated by the fact that we read completely different news sources.

Both sides are being bamboozled.

There is no battle going on between big government and big business; the battle is between the 1% and the rest of us. Powerful politicians and wealthy corporate elites are working hand in hand to make sure they stay powerful and get wealthier.

How do global elites rip us off while pulling the wool over our eyes? “Offshore Incorporated” shows us one of the ways.

 

Documentarian Mark Donne sheds a light on the surprisingly large problem of offshore tax havens.

What could be more boring than tax havens, you ask? Probably nothing. That’s one of the reasons why the 1% have been getting away with this for so long.

The film takes us back to the disintegration of the British Empire after WWII. While the UK let all of its major colonies break away from the Crown, London tightened its grip on three tiny territories: Bermuda, Virgin Islands, and the Cayman Islands.

These are not just independent nations with a nominal allegiance to the Crown. These three island territories need to run every governing decision by the Queen. They have less independence than the Yorkshire County Council.

These islands act as a shady legal method for British businesses and billionaires to hide their profits. The tax havens are working so wonderfully that wealthy Americans are joining the party.

While public debt in the UK and the US skyrockets, the super rich hide their money from the taxman. There is now approximately $10 trillion squirreled away in secret offshore accounts.

Offshore tax havens are a disaster for the working class. The main reason why the economy is sputtering along at 2% growth is that our surplus capital is being systemically stolen away and hidden in overseas shell company accounts.

Companies could be using all that loot to increase wages and hire more fulltime workers with benefits. Instead, it just collects dust on a ledger somewhere in the middle of the Caribbean.

 

“Offshore Incorporated” tells a story of greed that is not just destructive, it is pointless. This is money that the global elites will never live long enough to enjoy. They just want to keep it away from you.

Sadly, even though there is no reasonable person who votes to keep offshore tax havens going, there is no clear plan to shut them down. The companies and billionaires that use them are just too powerful. And we can’t expect the government to save us; government has been behind this from the very beginning.

 

You know that person in your life who supports the other party? Please hug him. Or send him a warm Facebook message. We’re on the same side. And we are all going to need to work together if we ever want to have a chance of defending ourselves from the unrelenting villainy of the 1%.

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What the Health 

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What the Health

***1/2

 

Everybody has an opinion about which foods are good for you and which are bad. Most people will claim that their diet is healthy and they’ll urge you to try eating like them.

I listen to what people say. But I don’t believe them. When it comes to food, people are passionate and biased. And no one really knows for sure what the perfect diet consists of. If a really old skinny person is telling me what she eats, I’ll listen up. But, in the end, we’re all just eating what we want and hoping for the best.

 

Kip Anderson, the star of “What the Health,” isn’t just hoping for the best. He believes that he has found the perfect diet: veganism.

“What the Health” is an entertaining, relentless documentary. With a passionate fury, Kip Anderson tries to convince the world that a plant-based diet is a cure-all and that all animal-based food is poison.

 

Anderson comes right out with guns blazing: he states that virtually all illness is due to meat consumption. If you have cancer, it was due to meat. If you have diabetes, it was due to meat (not sugar. Meat). Bad bones? Meat. Bad joints? Meat. Asthma? Meat. Lack of energy? Meat.

Meat is bad due to the fat and cholesterol, due to the hormones and antibiotics, and due to the fact that piling up protein in our body does more harm than good.

How about milk, cheese, eggs, and fish? According to “What the Health,” they are just as bad. Dairy is fuel for baby cows but poison to us. Eggs are cholesterol-filled death bombs that are unsafe even in small quantities. Fish is loaded with industrial toxins and frightening levels of mercury.

 

“What the Health” does a laughably bad job of convincing us that every animal product is terrible for you. It does a disturbingly good job of convincing us that mass-produced meat is disgusting.

Factory farm animals live their miserable lives in dark, over-crowded pens. Disease is rampant. Anderson states that pigs and cows suffer from infections, inflamed abscesses, and pus-filled sores. Then he shows us the video proof that these diseased animal corpses fire right through the assembly line and into our food. It is nauseating.

 

Anderson concludes that a serious environmentalist cannot eat meat. At the very least, it is a natural fact that raising animals is an inefficient use of arable land and water resources.

“What the Health” also exposes the fact that factory farms systematically destroy rural communities wherever they can get away with it. Kip Anderson takes us to a mostly black county of North Carolina, where the unending mountains of pig poo have poisoned the air, the soil, and the waterways.

 

Okay. I’m convinced. Meat is the worst. Going vegan is the right thing to do.

“What the Health” goes from powerful to absurd in the final act. Kip Anderson goes from muckraker to evangelist and makes a series of impossible claims about the health benefits of veganism.

He says that going vegan will turn you into a superhuman athlete. He says that vegan blood kills cancers cell just by touching them. He claims to have proof that a vegan, high-sugar diet cures diabetes.

Anderson meets a 61-year-old lady who limps around her house with a walker because her bones and joints are so brittle. Then, after just a few weeks of eating vegan, she tosses aside her walker and strolls happily around her neighborhood.

This isn’t science, obviously; it is faith-healing fanaticism. It’s like they are filming the movie version of the 9th Chapter of Matthew, with a stalk of broccoli playing the role of Jesus.

 

“What the Health”’s heart is in the right place. Even though its scientific compass is all over the place. I don’t believe half of it, but I’m still glad that I watched it.

    State of Marriage

Image result for eminem if a man and another man can elope

Vermont Movie on Netflix

State of Marriage

**

 

It’s amazing how quickly and completely the Gay Marriage movement conquered the Western World.

Gay marriage activists went from a disdained minority around the turn of the century to undisputed champions by 2015.

The Gay Marriage lobby is the NRA of the Left. Like the NRA, the Gay Marriage lobby won legislative and court victories. And more importantly, they changed people’s minds. There are plenty of Democrats who quietly accept the fact that guns are legal. And there are millions of Republicans now who would be delighted to attend a gay wedding.

 

Like most people at the turn of the century, I was opposed to the State granting marriage licenses to gay people. Not for the reasons that you think, though.

Firstly, more legal marriages inevitably leads to more divorces. And I’m against anything that further enriches divorce lawyers.

I don’t think that the government should be involved in marriages at all. A marriage should be a non-legal agreement based on love, not money. It should be a vow between two people and their close friends and family. Uncle Sam should have no say in it.

I am 100% pro-gay. But, at least back in 2000, I was 101% anti-government. And I was opposed to anything that gives the government more knowledge of us and power over us.

It always seemed odd to me that the very people who usually say “stay out of our bedroom” were suddenly demanding that Uncle Sam saunter in and sanctify what they are doing in their bedroom with moderately priced legal documents.

 

With so many different groups of people opposed to gay marriage, it is astounding that change won out. ‘Change’ is easy to say but hard to accomplish. Gay Rights advocates were able to fundamentally change the definition of marriage that had existed since the beginning of recorded history. It’s an epic accomplishment.

“State of Marriage” chronicles the handful of lawyers and activists who took on the Status Quo and won. It all started right here in Vermont.

 

The undisputed heroes of this story are Vermont lawyer couple Beth Robinson and Susan Murray.

Fueled by passion and Pixy Stix, Robinson worked in her private practice by day and spent most every night putting together a case against the State of Vermont.

In Baker v Vermont (1999), Beth Robinson hardly mentioned her homosexual clients at all. Instead, she told a story of when – not too many generations ago – interracial marriage was illegal everywhere and frowned upon by all. She praised the courts of the mid-20th Century for changing America’s marriage rules for the better.

Robinson’s analogy was perfect and her legal argument was splendid. The Court sided with the Plaintiffs. (Robinson herself was appointed to the Vermont Supreme Court in 2011).

From there, Robinson, Murray, and their team successfully lobbied the Vermont Legislature to legalize Civil Unions – which gave gay couples all the rights of married couples.

Some were disappointed that the new law stopped short of granting full marriage equality. But they couldn’t see the big picture. The tide of history had turned in their favor. And there was no going back.

 

I am not opposed to gay marriage anymore. Is anyone?

Director Jeff Kaufman makes it seem like the legal and legislative victories were the only story; he ignores the victory that social justice warriors had over our hearts and minds. He interviewed too many people who were believers all along. But he didn’t interview any of the 50 million Americans who had their mind changed.

In less than a generation, gay marriage went from a fringe issue to the agreed upon standard of the Western World. I would like to see a great movie about how this revolution came to pass. Sadly, “State of Marriage” isn’t it.

  The Truth About Alcohol

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The Truth About Alcohol

                                                    **1/2

    They say alcohol is a poison. And I suppose that’s technically true. But it isn’t that dangerous a poison.

    I know this because I have been to the UK a few times. And I can tell you from firsthand experience that there are, in fact, elderly people there.

    If some British people made it to old age, then it is a proven fact that booze isn’t all that deadly. For Americans, drinking hard is a choice. For the British, it is a cultural tradition.

    In England, it is not customary to tip the bartender when she serves you a pint. This custom began years ago when it was discovered that the hundred richest women in the UK were barmaids. I made that up. But I am not exaggerating about how much the British drink.

    In the event that heavy drinking is seriously hazardous to the body, it is inevitable that British doctors will be on the cutting edge of scientific discovery.

    “The Truth About Alcohol” is a breezy, light-hearted, occasionally informative BBC documentary by British ER doctor Javid Abdelmoneim. Dr. Javid was inspired to make this film when the British Health Service suddenly lowered the recommended healthy level of alcohol intake for men to 14 units per week.

   In the US, a nerdy health-obsessed doctor would simply be a non-drinker. Dr. Javid is British, though, so he attaches a sweat-monitor to his ankle to calculate exactly how much he drinks in a normal week.

   It turns out that the doctor consumes twice the recommended weekly quotient of booze, and he didn’t even drink on four of the seven nights.

   In other words, if you drink in any serious way, you drink way too much for your own good.

Dr. Javid spends most of the film performing experiments and studies with dubious scientific merit to answer some common questions about alcohol.

         Why does a woman tend to get tipsy quickly while a tall, fit man of the same weight can hold his liquor? Apparently, it is because blood-alcohol level is determined by how much water a person has in her body. And since muscle has much more water than fat, the man will feel less drunk from the same amount of drinking.

         It’s also possible that the man lined his stomach before starting to drink. Dr. Javid does a splendid job of explaining how the digestive enzymes in your stomach begin to break down alcohol before it even gets absorbed into your bloodstream. That’s why you can drink so much more after a hearty meal.

          That seems convincing, but some of the film’s anti-alcohol claims are ridiculous.

Dr. Javid argues that booze makes you sleep poorly. But his only evidence is a one-night sleep study – featuring Javid himself and a bottle of fine whiskey. He states that alcohol makes you eat more. But he bases this on a twenty-minute study at a pub with a group of college boys. “Colin ate more crisps than Nigel. We must alert the Oxford Journal of Medicine!”

I certainly don’t know how bad alcohol is for you. But I do know this: the British have been drinking steadily and heavily since at least as far back as they learned written language.

And during those millennia, the British built a remarkable, artistic, cultured, influential society. They even conquered 1/3 of the earth one time.

The British aren’t going to drink less. And I’m probably not going to either. I plan on spending my first Social Security check on a six pack.

 Detroit

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Detroit

***

 

The 1967 Detroit Riot was hideously destructive.

More than 1000 people were injured. 43 died. More than two thousand buildings were destroyed.

After five days of looting and anarchy, the combined forces of police, National Guard, and army troops were finally able to enforce the 9pm curfew and reestablish order.

Thank goodness for those armed men in uniform. They maintain order and save us all from the destructive forces of anarchy.

Without the cops and troops, just imagine what would have happened to Detroit. At best, the riot would have reduced the city to ashes. At worst, there could have been an armed war between the city-dwellers and suburbanites, with 10 Mile Rd as the Front Line.

If you think that is far-fetched, that is because you have lived your whole life in a well-policed country. As soon as legitimate order breaks down, chaos ensues. Look at the situation in Somalia and Libya and Venezuela. Anarchy isn’t just a theoretical fear; it is the natural state of man.

If you think that many cops are on a power trip, you’re right. If you think that many cops use excessive force, you’re obviously right. If you think that many cops are racist, you couldn’t be more right.

If you think you would be better off without the police, you’re preposterously wrong. And you know it. That’s why you haven’t moved to Somalia.

 

 

“Detroit” is a well-made, entertaining, gripping, outrageously biased film about one ugly incident that happened during the 1967 Detroit Riot.

It began innocently enough, with a black guy firing a loud starter pistol in the direction of some cops. The officers did not know that it was just a starter pistol and they hideously overreacted.

A handful of rogue cops busted into the building from which the shots were fired, lined everyone up against the wall at gun point, and proceeded to terrorize everyone until they got a confession.

Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigalow (“The Hurt Locker”) is a master of violent suspense. As entertainment, “Detroit” is first rate. As a horror movie, “Detroit” works on every level. As a political statement, “Detroit” is a dubious achievement at best.

Making a film about the Detroit Riot and making it all about police brutality is an odd spin indeed. It’s kind of like making a film called “Nazi Germany” and telling the heart-warming story about Hitler’s relationship with his loyal German Shepard Blondi. On one hand, the movie would be 100% true. At the same time, it would be laughably biased and expose the filmmaker’s ugly political agenda.

 

“Detroit” is the right movie set in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Riots are the times where we need cops the most.

Our country has a lot of problems. But none of them are as bad as anarchy.

 Oklahoma City

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Oklahoma City

                   ***1/2

          When the media talks about a terrorist, they are supposed to say that he is a brainwashed coward. Yup. According to the talking heads on CNN and Fox, every terrorist is the same: cowardly and crazy.

          I don’t know why it is against the rules of society to be honest about terrorism.

          The truth is that some terrorists are not cowards. They put themselves at risk to be arrested, killed, and/or damned to further a cause that they sincerely believe in.

          The truth is that some terrorists have a well-thought out system of beliefs that they share with a lot of people. It’s just that most people who share those beliefs aren’t willing to kill.

          “Oklahoma City” is a thought-provoking documentary about an American terrorist and gun lover – Timothy McVeigh – who murdered a bunch of people for reasons that are not crazy.

          Director Barak Goodman does an amazing job of showing us the four things that motivated the Oklahoma City bomber.

1.     Operation Desert Shield

What better place for a young gun lover than the US Army? Timothy McVeigh was a proud, happy soldier until he was sent to Middle East.

McVeigh thought that killing enemy soldiers would be thrilling. Instead – he recounts from prison years later – he felt like the Arab men he was murdering were just like him. And it made him sick. McVeigh began to realize that Uncle Sam is a bully.

At least the government wasn’t bullying Americans back home…

2.     Ruby Ridge

In the 80s, Randy Weaver decided to move his family as far away from society as he could. He was living on the top of a mountain in northern Idaho with no electricity or plumbing. It is hard to be less of a menace to society than Mr. Weaver. The Feds had a different idea.

          When Randy Weaver missed a court date in 1992 for weapons charges, the ATF and the FBI moved in. Before the standoff was over, US Marshals had killed Weaver’s wife, his 14 year old son, and his dog.

3.     Waco

Christian minister/cult leader David Koresh and his followers were living apart from society, in an isolated compound outside of Waco, Texas. Their crime was not bothering or hurting any outsiders; it was buying weapons illegally.

Koresh’s followers fought off an ATF raid and killed four federal agents. The government responded by busting in with tanks and tear gas. On April 19, 1993, Koresh’s compound caught fire. 76 people were killed.

4.     The Brady Bill

Looking back, The Brady Bill was little more than a rare, minor legislative loss by the NRA.

To already angry Timothy McVeigh, it was the final straw. First, the government had forced him to murder Arabs for no reason. Then, Uncle Sam had killed a bunch of gun owners who were minding their own business. Now, it seemed , US Marshals were probably going to bust down HIS door and take his guns.

On April 19, 1995 (the anniversary of Waco), Timothy McVeigh detonated a homemade bomb on the bottom floor of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.

Timothy McVeigh was proud and unapologetic. He was executed by lethal injection in 2001.

The Oklahoma City bomber’s intentions were as clear as his actions were monstrous. McVeigh was inspired by….White Supremacy!

Wait! What? In the final act, director Barak Goodman throws us an absurd, politically-motivated curve ball. His conclusion is that Timothy McVeigh was a natural culmination of the White Power movement. Never mind that McVeigh never attended a White Power meeting and, based on prison interviews, wasn’t concerned about race at all.

Fortunately for us and unfortunately for Mr. Goodman, he accidentally told the truth for most of his film. The truth is that Timothy McVeigh was furious about Federal overreach and Washington’s willingness to kill whomever it pleases – here and abroad.

I don’t know why the truth about terrorism is so hard to stomach. The truth is that some terrorists are rational people with reasonable anger over legitimate issues. The only difference is: they think it is right to kill for their beliefs while we know it is evil.

  Dunkirk

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     Dunkirk
                     ***
   In 1939, the UK declared war on Nazi Germany. That said: the British weren’t actually in any position to fight a war.
   In spring 1940, the German army tore through the Netherlands, Belgium, and then northern France. The combined French and British armies were no match. Within just a few weeks, UK soldiers had stopped fighting. When the film begins, 400,000 men are on the beaches of Dunkirk, desperately waiting to be rescued.
   I can’t help but contrast the Dunkirk evacuation with the defense of the Soviet Union.
   In direct contrast with the UK, the USSR had no interest in going to war with Nazi Germany. Stalin was in horrified disbelief when he heard that Hitler had reneged on their non-aggression pact.
   Even though the Soviet Union wasn’t planning a war, it was darn well willing to fight one.
    “Quantity is its own quality,” Joseph Stalin said. The Red Army was inferior to the German war machine in every possible way. Inferior weapons, inferior training, inferior leaders, inferior medical supplies (the Soviets had no morphine). But the USSR was able to draft 30 million men…30 million men who knew that they would be shot if they retreated and that their parents might be shot if they deserted.
     There was no Dunkirk for the Soviets. Just sacrifice, cold, and death. Approximately ten million Soviet soldiers died in World War II. The United States and the United Kingdom lost fewer than a million combined.
     “Dunkirk” takes us to the beaches of Northern France to show how the British rescued their army from certain defeat.
     Although Dunkirk is less than 40 miles from England, the evacuation seemed impossible. The water is so shallow near the beach that no large vessel could come ashore. So the only solution was to have many, many small boats ferry small numbers of men across the Strait of Dover, with German bombers and U-Boats trying to sink as many as possible.
     In some ways, this is a straightforward war movie: loud, violent, and harrowing. But director Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight,” “The Prestige,” “Inception”) isn’t afraid to put his own artsy signature on the film at times. “Dunkirk” is the only war movie I’ve ever seen that is told out of sequence.
     If you blink you’ll miss it, but Nolan uses this Pulp Fiction-esque storytelling technique to show us characters who have been emotionally ravaged by war and then show us glimpses of the guys they were before they witnessed death.
     For some characters, seeing people die around them gives them bravery and resolve. For some characters, the trauma turns them into desperate animals. Nolan doesn’t want us to judge the cowards; he wants us to feel empathy for everyone on screen.
     For those who love war movies, “Dunkirk” is a must see. For those who are upset and stressed out by war movies (like me), I do not recommend it.
     In “Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan asks a deep moral question.
     Was the UK less heroic than the USSR because the British retreated when faced with long odds while the Soviets sacrificed a generation of men in order to stop the Nazis? Or was the UK more civilized and humane because it refused to accept the premise of total war where human life means nothing?
     Nolan never answers this question. I vote for the British.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball

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                   The Battered Bastards of Baseball

                                  ****

 

          Tim Tebow is one of the most famous sports figures in America.

          He is best known for being Christian, but he actually plays sports from time to time as well. Tebow was a star quarterback for the University of Florida. Then he was a lousy quarterback in the NFL. 

          This year, he made headlines with his unusual decision to become a professional baseball player. The media scoffed. I scoffed. But, strangely enough, Mr. Tebow is doing all right. He is a productive starting Outfielder for the St. Lucie Mets, a single-A affiliate of the New York Mets.

          At work the other day, a guy who saw a Tebow story on ESPN stated that Tebow is living the good life, getting paid well, and is one step away from the Major Leagues. None of that is true.

And that’s when it hit me: most people – even most sports fans – don’t know anything about Minor League baseball.  

          The annual MLB Draft has 40 rounds. A kid who is drafted is, at best, a few years away from getting to the big leagues. More realistically, he will never come close. For every Major League team you have heard of, there are at least four minor league teams that you’ve never heard of (AAA is the highest level, single A is the lowest).

          The reason why even baseball fans don’t care about Minor League baseball is that affiliated minor league teams are little more than soulless corporate factories that help a few gifted kids become Major Leaguers and weed out the Tim Tebow-esque 90%.  

         

In 1972, every single minor league team in America was affiliated with a Major League ballclub. In 1973, every team was affiliated except one.

          “The Battered Bastards of Baseball” is the joyous, upbeat story of the Portland Mavericks.

          In the 1960s, Bing Russell (Kurt Russell’s dad) was best known as the Deputy Sheriff on Bonanza. But though he liked acting, he loved baseball.

Bing Russell used his own money to fund astoundingly serious and nerdy baseball coaching videos meant to teach fundamentals to little leaguers. Multiple Major League managers showed Bing’s tapes to their own players.

          When Russell founded an unaffiliated club in Portland, Oregon, the baseball world assumed that it would fail. Every other minor league team in America consisted of players drafted and paid by Major League clubs. How would The Mavericks find players? And compete?

          Bing Russell put an advertisement in The Sporting News announcing open tryouts. Five hundred men showed up. Russell himself selected the twenty-five best. Not the youngest. Not the strongest. Not the most physically gifted. The best.

          They competed pretty darn well. In their very first game, the Mavericks pitcher threw a no-hitter. And that set the stage for years of consistent dominance by the upstart Portland team.

          Their philosophy was to run the bases hard, take chances, be ridiculous, and have fun. While every other club in their league lost their best players to AA, the Mavericks became a tight family – all working hard to impress their baseball-savant boss.

          Minor League baseball is so uninspiring that the only minor leaguer that you have even heard of is a washed-up Quarterback.

           It doesn’t have to be that way. Following a baseball team is one of the most wonderful things about being an American. You get to share a magical summer with guys that you care about, watching them play a sport that you love.

“The Battered Bastards of Baseball” is the feel-good baseball movie of the year. Watch it on Netflix tonight. (you know, after the game).