News You May Have Missed: October 3, 2021

“Secrecy for Sale” by thedescrier is licensed under CC BY 2.0


1. 29,000 off-shore accounts discovered: they drain tax revenues, support criminal activity

It’s hard enough to understand the world economic system as it is. But what if there were a second system, parallel to the first, which permitted huge sums of money–11.3 trillion dollars–to be siphoned off, invisible to world governments and therefore untaxed? According to a new trove of leaked documents, called the Pandora Papers, there is. As the Washington Post describes it, the 29,000 offshore accounts just discovered constitute a “parallel financial universe whose corrosive effects can span generations — draining significant sums from government treasuries, worsening wealth disparities, and shielding the riches of those who cheat and steal while impeding authorities and victims in their efforts to find or recover hidden assets.”

The information–buried in 11.9 million confidential files–was uncovered through a two-year investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and 150 media partners. 330 public officials–including a number of heads of state–are implicated. The Pandora Papers are a sequel, so to speak, to the Panama Papers, which revealed leaked records from just one law firm; the Pandora Papers revealed twice as many accounts. We describe these accounts as “offshore,” but some states–among them South Dakota and Nevada–have passed financial secrecy laws so stringent that some accounts are hidden there. Not only do secret accounts damage governments’ ability to function by draining profits that should be taxed, but they facilitate drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms deals, and child pornography.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) estimates that $15 billion in tax dollars are lost to offshore accounts, according to the Toronto Star. To keep this number in proportion, the province of Ontario projects that it will spend $8.9 billion on COVID-related health care costs in 2021-2022. The Star quotes Toby Sanger, executive director of Canadians for Tax Fairness, as saying, “That’s more than enough to have free tuition at all the universities and colleges across Canada. It’s more than enough for a national childcare program.” RLS

2. Building Back Better under siege

The second and third segments of  Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan, which would provide free community college, subsidized day care, universal pre-Kindergarten, paid family leave, and lower drug prices, according to CBS News, are at risk due to the intransigence of two Democratic senators and a well-funded right-wing siege. The Infrastructure Bill is estimated to cost $1.2 trillion over five years and the Reconciliation Bill, $3.5 trillion over ten years.

Not surprisingly, given that Biden plans to fund the bill through increases in corporate taxes, especially those corporations that acquire profits overseas, monied interests are fierce in their opposition.  Much of the press coverage has focused on the way Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia have held Biden’s agenda hostage, and indeed, as the Guardian notes, they could take down these two essential initiatives. It is not clear what either senator wants, and Sinema has been particularly enigmatic, Vanity Fair points out. From the right, the Koch Network–which is quite desperate to stop Biden’s agenda, according to Rolling Stone— has been lobbying moderate senators intensely. Various Koch affiliates (of which there are at least 100)–such as Americans for Prosperity, which is running ads headed “Tell Congress to stop the Biden-Sanders spending spree,” and the LIBRE Initiative, which is trying to persuade Latinos in the Southwest that Biden’s infrastructure plans would be bad for their communities–are part of the Network’s plan to undermine Biden and to fight Biden’s efforts against climate change. 

Twenty corporations have also lobbied against Biden’s bills, Sondra Youdelman explains, writing on the Institute for Policy Studies’ op/ed site, OtherWords, spending $201 million so far. The pharmaceutical industry is the largest of those in opposition. The organization Youdelman works for, People’s Action, has put out a report on the many ways in which corporations are working to undermine democracy. RLS

3. Bipartisan effort to bring back congressional authority to declare war

A bipartisan bill to rein in the power of presidents to wage war has been introduced in the House, rather astonishing given the high stakes legislative wrangling that is going on. Introduced by the Chairman of the House Rules Committee James P. McGovern (D-MA) and Representative Peter Meijer (R-MI), who is the ranking member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Management, & Accountability, the National Security Reforms and Accountability Act (H.R. 5410) would restore the authority of Congress to declare war. As McGovern’s press release explains, the bill would “recalibrate the balance of power between the president and Congress by reclaiming congressional oversight of arms sales, emergency declarations, and the use of military force.”

As the Brennan Institute explains, the bill would both repeal and revive the War Powers Resolution of 1973, enacted near the end of the Vietnam War, which established that only Congress could declare war. Presidents since then, including Joe Biden, have used loopholes in the language of the Resolution to proceed without congressional authorization. A similar bill, the National Security Powers Act, was introduced in the Senate in July, and Congress has some interest in revisiting the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which was passed following the 9/11 attacks and used to cover US military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Oddly, the only significant media outlet covering the bill is Politico, which points out that the bill will also require congressional authorization for certain arms sales and impose limits on emergency declarations. RLS

If you support these bills, you may want to alert your Senators and Representative: (HR 5410 in the House, S 2391 in the Senate). Find your Senators here. Find your Representative here.

4. Doing no harm

In 1993, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was passed to protect the rights of minority religious groups. However, according to the Human Rights Campaign, since then it has been subverted, used to allow religious groups to discriminate against others, as in the Hobby Lobby case, in which the Supreme Court upheld the right of a corporation to decline to provide insurance coverage for contraception.

H.R.1378, the Do No Harm Act, would clarify that the intent of RFRA was to protect the rights of minority religious groups, not permit those groups to do harm. The legislation was introduced in the House in February. As the Congressional summary explains, the Do No Harm Act would ensure that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act is “inapplicable to laws or the implementation of laws that protect against discrimination or the promotion of equal opportunity (e.g., the Civil Rights Act of 1964).” It would also “require employers to provide wages, other compensation, or benefits, including leave; protect collective activity in the workplace; protect against child labor, abuse, or exploitation; or provide for access to, information about, referrals for, provision of, or coverage for, any health care item or service.” Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) has now introduced companion legislation in the Senate, S 2752. H.R.1378 is currently with the House Judiciary Committee’s Constitution, Civil Rights, and the Civil Liberties Subcommittee to which it was referred in March. S-HP

If you support the Do No Harm act, you might urge swift, positive action on the legislation in the House Judiciary Committee and its Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee and emphasize that real religious freedom should not include the right to discriminate or withhold basic workplace or civil rights. You might also tell your Senators and your Representative that you want to see them actively supporting the Do No Harm Act because real religious freedom should not include the right to discriminate or withhold basic workplace or civil rights. Addresses are here.


5. Lessons from 50 years covering foreign policy

Instead of providing our own summary and commentary on international news this week, we recommend to you writer Conn Hallinan’s reflections on writing about foreign policy for the last 50 years, posted on Foreign Policy in Focus (which we also recommend). Region by region, Hallinan notes the patterns he perceives and the directions he suggests we go (spoiler alert: we need an international health care treaty).


6. Notification of Oil Spill Delayed Because?

Don’t go barefoot on the beach after an oil spill. You’ll carry the black, sticky patches on your feet for days, as well as the knowledge of what must be happening to sea birds. Southern Californians are facing this reality–and they have questions about why it took over 24 hours for the scope of the 126,000 oil spill to be announced, the LA Times reports. Coming from a platform owned by a Houston-based company, Amplify Energy, the leak is off the coast of Long Beach. Somehow the company was unable to stop the leak once they were notified of it. 

The oil has already reached sensitive wetlands in Orange County, according to the Times, killing birds and fish. The Times cites a wetland biologist who notes that the area is home to birds that are rare on the West Coast, including “gulls, willet, long-billed dowitchers, elegant terns and reddish egrets.” Oil destroys the waterproofing on birds’ feathers, the Canadian Wildlife Foundation points out, and as they try to remove it, they ingest the toxic material. Other sea life–dolphins, turtles, seals–also swallow the oil and can be poisoned by it; marine mammals with fur also suffer from encounters with oil, as it destroys the insulation they depend on, according to the National Ocean Service

Oil spills are only one of the hazards of fossil fuels, of course. Back in March, the Guardian published an article based on internal memos and documents from energy companies which revealed that these corporations–Exxon, Shell and others–had understood 50 years ago how fossil fuels put human health at risk and foresaw the effects on climate–yet continued to deny these facts. Indeed Exxon funded climate deniers, as the Guardian reported some years ago and scientists at George Mason university verified in a report called America Misled.


Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.

Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change. Note in particular their suggestion to tell your Governor to stop playing politics with kids’ health. Apropos of which, note the CDC report from May that describes how masks and vaccines reduce transmission in schools.

The Americans of Conscience checklist has relaunched! They offer new actions every other week that will enable you to make your voice heard quickly and clearly. In addition, they have a good news section that will help you keep going.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has a useful FAQ about COVID-19 and the vaccines.

The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

Among the organizations that supports kids and their families at the border is RAICES, which provides legal support. The need for their services has never been greater. You can support them here.

Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.

The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.

The group Angry Tias and Abuelas provides legal advice and services to asylum-seekers at the border. You can follow their work on Facebook and see the list of volunteer opportunities they have posted.

Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.