In today's On the News segment: The Cayman Islands have agreed to cooperate with the U.S., and make it more difficult for the wealthy to stash money overseas; Texas Republicans claim their voting district lines aren't racist, just openly partisan; there's a new effort to close Guantanamo Bay; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. The bankers, billionaires, and wealthy elite are losing one of their favorite offshore tax havens. The Cayman Islands have finally agreed to cooperate with the U.S., and make it more difficult for the wealthy to stash money overseas. Officials in that nation have agreed to accept provisions of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which will take effect in July of next year. After that, the Caymans will have to alert our Treasury Department about Americans' who have more than $50,000 dollars stashed in tax-free accounts in that nation. The FATCA was enacted in 2010, after a Swiss banking scandal revealed that wealthy Americans were hiding substantial fortunes overseas. According to Reuters, banks and financial institutions that refuse to comply with the new law will be hit with a 30 percent withholding tax, which would essentially freeze them out of U.S. financial markets. The deal between the U.S. and the Caymans also puts pressure on several other low-tax nations, like Luxembourg, Bermuda, and the British Virgin Islands, to sign on to similar plans meant to fight U.S. tax evasion. As it becomes more difficult to hide money offshore, rich people will actually have to pay their taxes, and there will be incentive for the wealthy to invest here at home. The days of the rich skipping out on their patriotic duty of paying taxes could soon be over, and the wealthy may have to start contributing to the care of our commons, which made their vast fortunes possible in the first place.
In screwed news... Texas Republicans swear their new voting district lines aren't racist – they're just openly partisan. After the Supreme Court struck down a key provision in the Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Eric Holder filed a lawsuit to place a new pre-clearance requirement on Texas. In response, that state's Attorney General filed a brief with the court explaining that the state was not engaging in racial discrimination, because "their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party's electoral prospects at the expense of Democrats." His reasoning may not come as a surprise to anyone, but his unapologetic explanation is still quite a shock. Essentially, Texas is arguing that they're not trying to block minorities from the polls, unless those minorities happen to want to elect a Democrat. The systematic war on voting rights is now well underway in several states in our nation, but Texas is the first to openly admit their plans to make it harder to Democrats to vote. It will be very interesting to see how the court reacts to the Lonestar State's telling defense. Stay tuned.
In the best of the rest of the news...
If you're planning on buying an individual health insurance policy, there's about a 50 percent chance that the government will help you pay for it. According to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, under Obamacare nearly half of Americans will receive government subsidies to pay for insurance. The study found that for a family of four who purchase a mid-level "Silver" insurance plan, the government will pick up more than 30 percent of the tab. If they enroll in a less-expensive "Bronze" plan, the subsides will cover 77 percent of the cost. And, those "Bronze" plans still include many important provisions – like free preventative care – that insurance companies have been charging for until now. These financial subsidies will help those who make up to 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Line finally get the healthcare that many so desperately need. This news is quite different from the Republican fear mongering about rising premiums, which they have used to intentionally scare people about Obamacare. Very soon, you will have access to affordable healthcare, and there's a good chance that the government will help you pay for it. That doesn't seem so scary after all.
There's a brand new effort to close the torture facility at Guantanamo Bay, and this time it could finally happen. Ranking Senate Democrats Dick Durbin and Dianne Feinstein are using the exorbitant cost of operating the facility to get Republicans to agree to close the prison. According to Senators Durbin and Feinstein, it costs American taxpayers nearly $500 million dollars a year to operate Gitmo, which is about $2.7 million per detainee. In an op-ed the senators wrote in the L.A. times, they said, "With the sequester stretching budgets and Defense Department employees under furloughs, the U.S. is spending, per Guantanamo detainee, roughly 35 times the amount it spends at [the] Supermax [prison in Colorado] detaining a convicted terrorist." They want detainees who have been cleared for release to be transferred, and the rest relocated to prisons here in the U.S. Republicans have blocked every previous effort to close Gitmo, but using the cost angle may put them in a tough spot. If right-wing lawmakers really believe that we must reign in spending, and they're willing to cut vital programs that Americans rely on to do it, than it may be time for them to put their money where there mouth is – and close Gitmo once and for all.
And finally... Hempfest in Seattle, Washington is a yearly festival where thousands gather to smoke pot, listen to music, and enjoy the surroundings. In previous years, cops may have arrested people for smoking pot, but this year they'll be handing out the muchies. This Friday, Seattle will kick off their first hempfest since Washington state legalized recreational marijuana. Cops will still be on hand during the festival, but instead of arresting the attendees, police will be handing out 1,000 bags of Doritos with special labels explaining the "DOs and DON'Ts" of Seattle's new pot laws. Department spokesman, Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said, "It's meant to be ironic. The idea of police passing out Doritos at a festival that celebrates pot, we're sure, is going to generate some buzz."
And that's the way it is today – Thursday, August 15, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.