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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 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.

  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.

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press

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Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press

***

 

In 2012, the news gossip site Gawker posted part of a video that showed Hulk Hogan in bed with his best friend’s wife.

Hulk Hogan was so ticked off that he could have torn his shirt off in anger. So, what did he do about it?

He successfully sued Gawker and its publishers for $140 million that they definitely did not have. Hogan knocked Gawker out of business faster than he knocked out the Iron Sheik.

Brian Knappenberger – director of the passionate, thought-provoking, outrageously biased documentary “Nobody Speak” – considers the Hulk Hogan trial to be the beginning of the end of America’s free press.

Knappenberger argues that the verdict violated Gawker’s Constitutional Rights. That is pretty far-fetched. Again, Gawker shared a recording of an old tan dude who was cuckolding his pal. If you think that’s specifically covered by the First Amendment, then you have an interesting notion of the kinkiness level of our Founding Fathers.

Knappenberger argues that the annihilation of Gawker is a warning sign that power in America is shifting away from reporters and into the hands of billionaires.

Apparently, the brains and the money behind Hogan’s lawsuit was Silicon Valley tycoon Peter Thiel. The tech billionaire had a grudge against Gawker because the site outed him in 2007.

Using $10 million to hire a team of A-list lawyers, the billionaire used the legal system to destroy his enemies. This sets an ugly precedent.

 

And if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em. “Nobody Speak” also explores another way that billionaires can threaten the free press.

Sheldon Adelson is a casino tycoon and influential Republican donor. Apparently, he didn’t care for the way the Las Vegas Review-Journal was portraying him. So he bought the paper, made obnoxious rules about how much the staff columnists could write about him, and solved his problem.

I am not going to defend Sheldon Adelson; that is some childish Citizen Kane-esque nonsense. However, I don’t see how it spells the end of the free press. Mostly, it emphasizes how painfully anti-Republican this movie is.

Knappenberger spends a half hour on Adelson but no more than 10 seconds on Jeff Bezos’s purchase of the Washington Post.

If there is a man who has the motivation and the wherewithal to fundamentally alter truth and liberty in America, it is Amazon.com CEO and dictator Jeff Bezos.

Bezos is already the most powerful and influential person on planet earth. While most CEOs use their company’s profits to help investors get wealthy, Bezos continues to build a massive world-wide infrastructure that is slowly wiping out all competition.

Amazon.com is revolutionizing consumerism: making it easier, more mindless, more wasteful, more globalist, and more unaccountable.

Remember last year at this time when candidate Trump stated that Amazon corporation has “a huge anti-Trust problem”? Of course you don’t; the corporate media doesn’t even want us to debate that topic.

It is troubling that during the past few months, you and your family have spent more time discussing the substance-free Russia scandal than the urgent national need to break up Amazon.com. That is in large part because the most influential newspaper in Washington is now the propaganda arm of the Jeff Bezos empire.

In conclusion: Hulk Hogan is a crybaby who should be ashamed of himself. And we desperately need to break up Amazon.com.

Oh, and the death of the free press? That obviously isn’t happening. I proved it. I just published a column tearing down the world’s most powerful man and I’m not even going to get in trouble. The Press is fine.

American Experience: The Big Burn

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American Experience: The Big Burn

***

 

We need to Save the Trees!

Deforestation has ravaged our once great forests. The dwindling tree population is choking the oxygen-starved atmosphere.

Sorry, environmentalists: I’m being sarcastic. Every word of that last paragraph is false.

First, a solid majority of new atmospheric oxygen is produced by water-dwelling pytoplankton. If you love trees and walks through the forest, that is perfect understandable. Scientifically speaking, however, we don’t need trees to survive.

Second, North America has way more trees than it had at the turn of the 20th Century. Right here in Central Vermont, deer sightings used to make the newspaper. Hubbard Park was a big, treeless field.

What happened? Did Conservationist save the day? Nope: the automobile was invented.

In the 19th Century, millions of acres of arable land were used for fields to feed horses. As horses were replaced by Model Ts, those fields became forests. Tree-Huggers should pause to hug a Ford Focus; it did more to save the trees than the US Forest Service.

Indeed, “The Big Burn” shows that the US Forest Service has been misguided from the very beginning.

In 1905, The US Forest Service was founded by patrician Progressives who valued idealism more than common sense, and trees more than people.

The fledgling Federal agency sent intrepid young men far and wide. US Forest Rangers even found their way to the remote Bitterroot region of Western Montana and Northern Idaho. When Rangers told the hearty locals that they were no longer allowed to use the vast forest for clearcutting and strip-mining, they were furious.

As the PBS documentary “The Big Burn” reluctantly admits, the Forest Service’s rules that chose trees over people ended up being a disaster for both trees and people.

 

The summer of 1910 was bone dry in the Bitterroot. When a heat-lightning storm ignited a dry patch of trees, the largest fire in the history of the Hemisphere began.

Despite its remote location, America quickly recognized the size and the seriousness of the blaze. Women and children were bustled out; Federal Troops rushed in.

Desperate men aboard the last train out of town were forced off their cars at gunpoint. Uncle Sam needed them to fight the fire, the soldiers said.

But those men were just being sent to their deaths. There was no fighting The Big Burn. By the time the blaze burned itself out, a layer of soot coated the ground as far away as Iceland. Ships in the Pacific Ocean couldn’t navigate because the air was so thick with smoke.

The only thing that could have stopped this fire in its tracks was a stretch of barren, treeless land. You know, the kind that you get when you allow people to clear cut a section of forest or build a strip mine.

In the end, the greatest boon to American forests was the invention of the internal combustion engine. And the greatest disaster was made worse by the myopic machinations of the US Forest Service.

We don’t need to Save the Trees. Take a drive down I89 and look around you. They are doing just fine without our help.

 

Peter and the Farm

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Peter and the Farm

***

A Montpelier lobbyist once told me that if you want to convince a Vermonter of your side, hire a farmer to present your argument. Vermonters trust farmers above all others.

There’s something weird about that. Seemingly, the only thing separating a farmer from you or me is that he has a terrible, terrible job.

200 years ago, 72% of American workers were farmers. Today, it is 2%. It’s a proven fact of history that most people eagerly leave the farm when given the chance.

Farming is the most dangerous, time-consuming, and emotionally taxing way to earn a living. Just ask poor Peter Dunning.

Peter is a profane old drunken philosopher. He lives alone on a farm off a dirt road near Springfield. Either you will hate him or you will pity him. Or both.

When you picture a family farmer, you imagine that he has a fatherly kinship with his animals. Like James Cromwell in “Babe.” Not Peter Dunning.

He treats his animals like commodities and pains in the butt. There is a graphic scene where he shoots one of his sheep to death and then skins and disembowels the corpse. The sad thing is, that is the nicest thing he does to a sheep the entire movie. Peter really hates sheep.

I’m not judging the guy. It is possible that 35 years of farming makes a man indifferent to death and suffering. However, if the government enacted a prohibitive sin tax on every item of meat sold in Vermont, I would heartily support the measure.

These days, being a farmer might actually be more dangerous than going to war. The few people I know who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan came home in one piece. Peter Dunning, on the other hand, has a three-fingered claw for a right hand as the result of a gruesome farm accident.

Another shocking fact about being a farmer: zero paid vacation days. In fact, zero vacations period because you are always needed on the farm. For decades, Peter hasn’t traveled any further than the Brattleboro Farmers Market.

Not that he has anyone to visit. Apparently, sheep aren’t the only mammals that Peter has mistreated over the years. Peter Dunning has two ex-wives and several children. He is estranged from all of them.

“Peter and the Farm” is a horror movie. Peter’s daily life is a living nightmare of loneliness, regret, and pain. He talks openly of suicide. He describes the deepest depths of alcoholism, where he has to get up in the middle of the night and guzzle rum in order to stave off Delirium Tremens.

As a Vermonter, apparently, you suffer from the strange mental affliction of romanticizing the family farmer. “Peter and the Farm” is your detox. There is nothing romantic about the life of a farmer. Just ask poor Peter Dunning.

 

Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race, and America

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Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race, and America

***

 

We are living in a time of shocking hatred and intolerance.

I am talking about college campuses, of course.

I imagine that you know what happened at Middlebury College last month. It made the national news. Charles Murray – a semi-famous, blandly mainstream political social philosopher – was invited to give a talk.

In Charles Murray’s 1994 best seller “The Bell Curve,” there were a few chapters that suggested that different races have different average IQs.

My first thought is that his conclusion is unverifiable and stupid. Middlebury’s first thought was that Mr. Murray has forfeited his right to speak and to even step foot on a college campus.

Never mind the fact that “The Bell Curve” was published before any of the students were born. Never mind the fact that Mr. Murray was there to talk about his new book “Coming Apart.” The Middlebury Thought Police concluded that students needed to be protected from the scourge of alternative ideas and free debate.

The anti-debate fanatics threatened Murray with physical harm if he didn’t leave and one of the professors was injured by the mob as he helped usher the speaker to safety.

I feel very fortunate to have been able to get my education during the easygoing 20th Century. Times have changed in a bad way. Is there any group of people more hateful and intolerant than a mob of brainwashed college students? Maybe the KKK?

Apparently not.

In this strange new world where progressive children aren’t allowed to talk to their ideological enemies, Daryl Davis stands out. He is either an angel among devils or an unforgivable apostate, depending on your perspective.

He makes his living as a rock’n’roll piano player, but Daryl Davis’s claim to fame is his unique circle of friends. Mr. Davis is a black guy who likes to befriend White Supremacists.

If you recently received a liberal arts degree, then “Accidental Courtesy” is guaranteed to offend you. Not only is it a film about people with differences having civilized conversations with each other, it dares to present Klansmen as…people.

In fact, it is the non-Klansmen who give Mr. Davis the hardest time. A trio of #blacklivesmatter activists brutally lay into him for being an Uncle Tom turncoat. Davis gets treated a little more respectfully when he visits the Southern Poverty Law Center. But when Davis suggests to them that they try to engage White Supremacists in dialogue, a civil rights worker laughs in his face. “All those people do is hate,” Davis is told.

But that isn’t true. No one just sits around and hates all day, obviously. It shouldn’t need to be proven, but Daryl Davis has proven it. In his thirty years of befriending White Supremacists, he has inspired dozens of Klansmen to rethink their values and leave the KKK. Mr. Davis proudly keeps the robes and hoods of the friends that he inspired to change.

Even the active White Supremacists who Daryl Davis sits down with act like respectable gentlemen in front of the camera (with one exception. Pastor Thomas Robb, who should probably be banished to South Sudan immediately).

The White Power kooks don’t seem all that angry. They are driven by one bad, outdated idea: the desire to be separate from other people. The Klansmen and Neo-Nazis agree that white people should live apart from non-white people and that they should not reproduce together.

This worldview is 100% wrong. But it’s not that different than the philosophy of Booker T. Washington. And it’s almost exactly the same as the racial separation theories of Marcus Garvey and Abraham Lincoln.

Daryl Davis’s life’s work is to demonstrate that a man can be wrong but not be a monster. And Davis continues to prove that it is more productive to talk with your ideological enemies than to demonize them.

I doubt it was Jewish director Matthew Ornstein’s intention to present Neo-Nazis as well-behaved conversationalists and progressive activists as mind-numbed fascists. But that is what happens in “Accidental Courtesy.”

Which is better? To be dead wrong and act like a peaceful gentleman? Or to be potentially right but demonstrate insufferable arrogance and intolerance? Young campus rioters need to look in the mirror and ask themselves that question.

 

 

Star Wars: Rogue One

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Rogue One

***

 

Picture it: You just finished a feast at a Chinese buffet.

You had six plates of food. Five was clearly the best, but the whole meal was wonderful. As the check is coming, you remember how tasty the beef with broccoli was and you foolishly eat one more heaping plate. Now you feel terrible. That last plate was a big mistake.

That final plate of beef with broccoli is “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.”

“The Force Awakens” (2015) is a sentimental, uninspired artistic failure. It was as if JJ Abrams was doing a Star War touchdown dance, without acknowledging that it was George Lucas who scored the touchdown.

In 2012, The Disney Corporation bought the rights to Star Wars for $4 billion. So there is no doubt that we will be watching new Star Wars movies for the rest of our lives. The question was whether they’d ever make real films or just an endless string of two hour commercials for BB8 merchandise.

“Rogue One” answers that question.

“Rogue One” is not brilliant and it’s not perfect. But it’s a serious film for adults by adults. And that’s good enough.

[Spoiler Alert] The story takes place in the time between the transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader in Episode III and the introduction of Luke Skywalker in Episode IV.

The newly formed Imperial Empire is trying to solidify its hegemony in the galaxy. And they’ve found a perfect way of doing it: the planet-killing Death Star battle station.

The Death Star will be able to wipe out uncooperative planets and annihilate the rebellion. Fortunately, Galen Erso – the scientist who designed the Death Star – secretly sabotaged the space station by leaving it vulnerable to attack from a single shot inside its core.

You know that already. But now we learn about the brave band of soldiers who stole the plans for the rebellion – led by the scientist’s daughter Jyn Erso.

At its heart, “Rogue One” is a gritty, WWII-style action film. There are no cutesy droids or silly animated creatures. There’s a lot of battle sequences and a lot of death. This is the first Star Wars movie that is absolutely not made for children. I liked it a lot.

“The Force Awakens” was a sickening bowl of beef with broccoli that we weren’t hungry for. “Rogue One” is the solid, wholesome meal that you eat for lunch the next day that makes you feel healthy again.