Daily Archives: December 2, 2016

End the Corporate Shell Games

By Leslie Caldwell – It is no secret that the U.S. financial system is an attractive playground: We have the deepest, most liquid and most stable markets, and criminals seek to use the tools of our financial and banking systems to serve their illicit purposes. For an illegal enterprise to succeed, criminals must be able to hide, move and get access to their proceeds without detection.

And when they are successful, their actions serve as a dual threat: Their criminal conduct itself can threaten the safety and security of all citizens, and their use of the financial and banking systems to hide their gains — or to fund additional criminal conduct — undermines the integrity of those systems.

The U.S. does not require corporate entities to disclose their true owners to the government. Corrupt foreign officials and other criminals are well aware of this loophole and exploit it, for example, to purchase expensive assets, such as real estate, here in the U.S.

As a result, we see the movement of billions of dollars — some of which represents proceeds of corruption or other crimes — through shell companies around the world. Whether an individual’s decision to use a shell company is motivated by corruption, tax evasion or a legitimate investment strategy, the end result is a lack of financial transparency.

This lack of transparency is precisely what makes the U.S. attractive to criminals, including corrupt foreign officials, who seek to use the financial systems to hide their assets. more> https://goo.gl/76QAAn

Solving the Problem of Fake News

By Nicholas Lemann – What we are now calling fake news—misinformation that people fall for—is nothing new. Thousands of years ago, in the Republic, Plato offered up a hellish vision of people who mistake shadows cast on a wall for reality.

The framers of the American Constitution devised a democratic system shot through with restrictions: only a limited portion of the citizenry could vote, and even that subset was permitted to elect only state and local politicians and members of the House of Representatives, not senators or Presidents. In guaranteeing freedom of the press, the framers gave a pass to fake news, since back then the press was mainly devoted to hot-blooded opinion.

They felt protected against a government that came to power through misinformation, because the country wasn’t very democratic, and because they assumed most people would simply vote their economic interests.

Only in the twentieth century, as the United States became a complex modern society with mass media and professional journalism, did people begin to worry about the fake-news problem, and when they did they usually came down either on the side of restricting democracy or restricting the media. more> https://goo.gl/hsyJyu

Updates from GE

No Laughing Matter: The World Is Running Out Of Helium, But It Won’t Hold These MRI Engineers Down
By Tomas Kellner and Dorothy Pomerantz – MRI machines explore the body by using powerful magnets and pulsing radio frequency signals. For the magnets to work, MRI manufacturers such as GE use liquid helium to cool them to minus 452 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 269 Celsius), just above absolute zero. At that temperature, they lose all electrical resistance and become superconducting.

“When you power up a super-cooled magnet, it can produce the same magnetic field for a thousand years with no more power required,” MR engineer and inventor Trifon Laskaris told GE Reports. The problem is that some machines need as much as 8,000 liters of the helium, and the world is running out of it, to the chagrin of radiologists and party-store owners alike.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Helium Privatization Act of 1996 got the government out of the business of producing the gas. But sales from the huge U.S. helium reserve stored in porous rock deep underneath Amarillo, Texas, kept down prices and gave private producers few incentives to enter the market. The shortage followed. more> https://goo.gl/emDpN3

Trump’s Challenge to American Democracy

By John Cassidy – The United States, thank goodness, isn’t Weimar Germany or early-twentieth-century Italy. The country hasn’t been invaded, the economy has grown for seven years in a row, and the commitment to democracy is deeply rooted. All this suggests that what we know as the American system is unlikely to be felled in one blow.

The real danger, as Jeff Colgan and others have pointed out, is that we will witness a gradual uprooting of the system’s foundations. Broadly speaking, this is what we have witnessed in Russia and Turkey during the past fifteen years. When Putin was elected, in 2000, following a decade of chaos, he claimed a mandate to restore order. It was only over time that he concentrated power in his hands, harassed and imprisoned his opponents, and cracked down on many forms of dissent. Using a rationalization for repressive measures that dates back at least to the French Revolution, the Russian President cited national-security imperatives, such as the need to confront Chechen terrorism.

Thankfully, the United States isn’t Russia or Turkey, either. On his first day in office, Trump is unlikely to ban protests or abolish a suspect’s Miranda rights. Other dangers loom, however, beginning with how he runs the Justice Department and other key agencies.

Then there is the issue of how Trump will deal with the press, which, for all its faults, remains a bulwark of American democracy. As he showed last week during his interview with the Times, the President-elect can butter up the Fourth Estate when he wants to. But, as he demonstrated during the campaign, he is also perfectly willing to attack journalists personally, boycott shows that run segments he doesn’t like, and bar entire news organizations from covering him. Through his Twitter and Facebook accounts, he has a personal “fake news” network with enormous reach, which he can use to circumvent the mainstream media. And in Steve Bannon, his former campaign C.E.O. and now his chief strategist, he has a skilled and unscrupulous propagandist. more> https://goo.gl/iO6HQH