Ireland’s Big Payday

In a victory for corporate taxes everywhere, Apple has been ordered to pay as much as €13 billion ($14.7 billion) in back taxes to Ireland. Or, perhaps, in a loss for workers everywhere, a reluctant Ireland is forced to go back on its agreement with Apple to base its European operations there in exchange for much needed tax breaks. Or, perhaps, corporate tax harmonization has been dealt a terrible setback as the European Union (EU) has claimed their turf in what should be hammered out through an international agreement.

What we do know for sure is the massive penalty, the largest ever imposed, is a big blow to Apple, amounting to …. around 7% of their massive $200 billion cash reserves. Unless, of course,  the Republic of Ireland can justify a smaller bill, which they are very much keen to do. So nevermind.

Like corporate taxes themselves, today’s big story is completely negotiable and dependent on your perspective. There will be more to this, but nothing even remotely obvious will happen in the immediate future.

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Racists Anonymous

Not many years ago, it was fashionable to say that racism was dead. “We live in a post-racial society now,” many people said, “And we don’t have to worry about that any longer.” Many white people, that is, said that. Non-whites knew perfectly well that racism has always been the disease at the core of our nation. The hurtful words were confined to private conversations and public dog-whistles of code didn’t fool anyone kept down and apart by racism.

With the rising voices of racism in the last year no one says that anymore. “At least,” in the words of Mike Yard, “We know who the racists are now.” The First Amendment does work. But for all the pain this open racism causes, are we any closer to getting past it? Only if openly acknowledging our racism is the first step towards healing.

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A New Fed?

The annual Jackson Hole conference of the Federal Reserve starts today! If you’re a little under-enthusiastic, it’s OK. There’s a lot going on, what with the State Fair, back to school preparations, and the fact that hardly anyone cares what the Fed is up to.

Except, that is, more people all the time. The mysterious workings of the Fed have come under a lot of scrutiny lately – from left, right, and center. The most powerful bank in the world does indeed control more of our destiny than many otherwise free people would like, and that’s worrying.

The Fed knows this, of course. They also know that in an era of dysfunctional government and globalism they have more power all the time – as well as more responsibility to get it right. Will there be a new, more open Fed?  The answer, a very strong “Yes!” may surprise you.

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Productivity Down – Blame the Kids?

The decline in productivity, first noted 15 months ago, is starting to become a serious issue. It is true that an increase in GDP is most likely and most sustainable when the output for every worker constantly goes up. But over the last year, we’ve had a sustained drop of 0.4% annualized.

The message is starting to creep into popular media. A scapegoat now has to be found, lest our politics actually focus on something real and useful. The blame for this decline now falls on smartphones – especially in the hands of those slacker Millenials.

Those kids! They just won’t get off our lawn. Or put down their phones and start mowing it, something like that. We’re never sure. What we do know is that rather than discuss economic trends we now have someone to blame so we can divert our attention from reality. This is just in time for the problem to solve itself.

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Is Objectivity Dead?

Once you let the monster out of its cage, how do you get it back in?

This may well be the question haunting serious journalists through and after this election. The gold standard of a reliable news media, objectivity, is at the very least being seriously tested. It may even be completely gone – replaced with instant fact-checking and even personal animosity directly primarily at Donald Trump.

It’s not as though his combative and free-flowing BS style doesn’t deserve a hard-hitting dose of reality at every turn. Democrats, like me, practically demand reporting like this. But we have to ask ourselves, “Is journalism as we know it dead, or simply doing what it has to for us to get through this election?”

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Post-Capitalist, Pre-Whatever?

I’m going to repeat this one from a year ago with no changes because I think some things are going the way Mason predicted – manufactured goods are more commoditized than ever.

Are you ready for a Post Capitalist world? Paul Mason, an economist and columnist for the Guardian, has outlined what that might mean in his book Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future. The premise of this provocative subject is simply that information technology has a tendency to commoditize everything in our lives and ultimately push the value to zero, rendering concepts of money and markets as we understand them today utterly useless.

No one actually lives in a post-anything world, so the question becomes less about capitalism and more about what might come afterward. Financial writers, far from dismissal of the potential downfall of their trade, are actually quite excited by the concept of a new world where the old rules do not apply. The traditional left, steeped in a quasi-Marxist dialectic, are far more unsure.

That’s what makes this concept exciting.

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Defeating ISIS

In a crazy election year, it should come as no surprise that there is another turn waiting to be sprung on everyone. The biggest “October Surprise” in the works right now is the defeat of ISIS / Da’ish. This is quite likely to happen, and it would be a huge boost for Obama and Democrats everywhere.

The story, of course, isn’t about us – but we’ll make it that way. Our media will almost certainly portray the collapse as something the Obama administration gets all the credit for. Not only will that not be entirely true, it will also be reported very badly by the media leading up to the “final” event.

This is a complex story that requires a lot of context, which is exactly what the US media is terrible at. But even more than predicting tomorrow’s news today, Barataria is all about context. Here is what to look for if you wish to follow this story as it unfolds.

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