Economics

IRS Worker Used Federal Plastic For Amazon Buys

(THE SMOKING GUN)   Her government credit card paid for years-long shopping spree. Entrusted with a government credit card, an Internal Revenue Service worker allegedly used the plastic for a years-long Amazon.com shopping spree that netted her hundreds of items, including a chocolate fondue fountain; Bollywood movies; Pampers; Harlequin romance novels; Omaha Steaks; Apple Bottoms skinny jeans; mango body wash; and a Ginsu knife set.

Yetunde Oseni, 37, was named this month in a U.S. District Court felony complaint charging her with embezzling government funds. Oseni has worked since 2000 as a secretary in an IRS office in Lanham, Maryland.

According to a court filing, Oseni was given a Citibank MasterCard for the “purchase of office supplies for her business unit.”

However, a probe by the Treasury Department’s inspector general determined that Oseni has made scores of unauthorized purchases since being provided the IRS credit card in mid-2009. Oseni “provided altered receipts to approving officials at the IRS to cover-up the unauthorized purchases,” prosecutors charge.

While the criminal complaint does not itemize the “household items and food products” purchased by Oseni from Amazon.com, a search warrant for her Bowie, Maryland home includes an eight-page inventory detailing the illegal haul, which investigators have valued at $8515.

Some of Oseni’s more distinctive buys included:

* “2 Plus Size Trench Coats”

* “Hello Kitty Cosmetic Set and Dream Diary Kit”

* “MAC Haughty & Naughty Lash Mascara”

* “Nostalgia Electrics RSM-702 Retro Series Snow Cone Maker”

* “3lb Party Candy and Toy Pinata”

* “Lansinoh Lanolin Nursing Cream”

* “4 pairs of Leveret Children Pajamas (Choo Choo, Dreamboat, Tiger, Monkey)”

Oseni, who is free on a personal recognizance bond, faces a maximum of ten years in prison if convicted on the embezzlement count. She is scheduled for a June 12 hearing at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt, Maryland.

According to bankruptcy court records, Oseni filed for Chapter 13 protection in June 2011, citing liabilities of between $50,000 and $100,000. She estimated her assets at less than $50,000. But a judge subsequently dismissed the case when Oseni failed to file required financial disclosure documents. (11 pages)

ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE

Biden’s $321,665 Limo Bill

 

(WEEKLY STANDARD)   After two items last week on the cost of lodging for Vice President Joe Biden’s early February trip to Europe, other news organizations began to investigate further.  Wolf Blitzer’s show The Situation Roomon CNN uncovered a contract apparently also related to the same visit to Paris:

         Also on the receipt was $321,665 for a limousine company.

Although CNN did not link to the document, the notice of the contract award for the limousine service was posted on the same government website as the hotel contracts.  Oddly, the “Contract Award Date” is listed as 2012, but this seems to simply be a typo:

The CNN report went on to explain that the limousine costs did not seem out of the ordinary:

As for the limousine to travel around Paris, the former advance official said that goes for the motor pool.

The vice president’s limo is flown in, but staff members on the trip didn’t take the Metro around. They’re not allowed to drive themselves and tend to book normal cars and drivers with the motor company-but don’t necessarily take limousines. The $321,665 figure in Paris sounded about right, that former official said.

The peculiarity pointed out by the CNN report and by Wolf Blitzer himself, based on his years reporting on the White House, is that these contracts are publicly available at all.  A search of the government website in question reveals very few other contracts related to the travels of the president or vice president.  However, another one of those rare finds also involves limousine service for a trip to France, this one from November 2011 when President Obama travelled to the G20 Summit in Cannes.

 

Inexplicably, the contract award amount is listed as only $10,000, which is wildly at odds with the $321,665 for Vice President Biden’s trip.  However, this listing, unlike the one for the Biden trip, includes an accompanying Justification and Approval document.  It reveals that the estimated cost of vehicles and drivers for the president’s Cannes visit was $731,938, not to exceed $1.4 million:

The president was in France for less than 36 hours.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE

Diamonds Are Bullshit

(PRICEONOMICS)   American males enter adulthood through a peculiar rite of passage – they spend most of their savings on a shiny piece of rock. They could invest the money in assets that will compound over time and someday provide a nest egg. Instead, they trade that money for a diamond ring, which isn’t much of an asset at all. As soon as you leave the jeweler with a diamond, it loses over 50% of its value.

Americans exchange diamond rings as part of the engagement process, because in 1938 De Beers decided that they would like us to. Prior to a stunningly successful marketing campaign 1938, Americans occasionally exchanged engagement rings, but wasn’t a pervasive occurrence. Not only is the demand for diamonds a marketing invention, but diamonds aren’t actually that rare. Only by carefully restricting the supply has De Beers kept the price of a diamond high.

Countless American dudes will attest that the societal obligation to furnish a diamond engagement ring is both stressful and expensive. But here’s the thing – this obligation only exists because the company that stands to profit from it willed it into existence.

So here is a modest proposal: Let’s agree that diamonds are bullshit and reject their role in the marriage process. Let’s admit that as a society we got tricked for about century into coveting sparkling pieces of carbon, but it’s time to end the nonsense.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE

Obama Moves to Outlaw Bitcoin

(THE FIREWALL)   Reuters is credited with breaking this story: EXCLUSIVE – U.S. to let spy agencies scour Americans’ finances

The FBI has quietly been given access to the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

(Reuters) – The Obama administration is drawing up plans to give all U.S. spy agencies full access to a massive database that contains financial data on American citizens and others who bank in the country, according to a Treasury Department document seen by Reuters.

FROM:  bitcoinmoney.com:  Director Freis: FinCEN’s New rule adaptable to ‘internet system’ 

The new rule was designed to be technology neutral and is meant to be adaptable to a range of products, such as a plastic card, an internet system, or a mobile phone network.

[Criteria that determines if a product is subject to the new rules include] whether the product is re-loadable, can be transferred to other consumers, and, […] can be used to transfer funds outside the United States.

We will be publishing [a] proposal for public comment very soon [on the requirement that tangible prepaid access is declared] when it is transported across a border, similar to the existing declaration required for international transport of cash and monetary instruments.

An entity that engages in money transmission in any amount is subject to the BSA rules.

The term ‘currency dealer or exchanger’ [has been replaced] with the new term ‘dealer in foreign exchange,’ a term used to include the exchange of instruments other than currency as a category of MSB.

It is recognized that AML/CFT regulations need to be applied not just to banks, but rather to a range of financial and other types of commercial institutions. Why? The reason is that any way that you can move money—any way that value can be intermediated—can be abused by criminals”.

Violations by much smaller entities might also merit monetary penalties.

Over the past year FinCEN has been engaged in an initiative to identify unregistered money services businesses, primarily independent money transmitters.

Now that FinCEN has established a solid regulatory framework for prepaid access in the United States, we must continue to promote analogous steps in foreign jurisdictions.

FROM:  As Bitcoin Becomes Billion Dollar Market America Moves For Crackdown | FDL News Desk.

Cue imperial march as the American Empire refuses to allow a currency outside its control and influence to flourish. And yes, of course, the government that just let HSBC walk with meager fines is going to invoke money laundering in its clumsy thuggish attempt to shutdown yet another avenue of freedom.

FROM:  FINCEN GUIDANCE ON VIRTUAL CURRENCIES COULD IMPACT BITCOIN EXCHANGES

The US Department of State has released its annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), a key component of which is a report on money laundering activities in various countries. The list of countries/jurisdictions “of primary concern” contains a whopping 65 names, which is only half the world, but hey, no one ever accused the US of slacking off when it came to projecting its values abroad. Among the nations allegedly slacking off on their oversight of money movement are notorious rogue states like Canada, the UK and Japan, popularly known as the Axis of Mundanity.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE

US Lawmakers Push for Internet Sales Tax

 

(ACTIVIST POST)   Did you pay sales tax on the last item you bought on the Internet?  Unless it was from Amazon, you probably did not. You may soon though if a gaggle of U.S. lawmakers working hand-in-hand with big business get their way.

And if you’re an online retailer, you may have to collect and remit sales taxes for all fifty states no matter where your online business resides. But don’t worry, lawmakers want to force all states to adopt the same standard for sales taxes, thus making it easier for you to comply.

Earlier this month, a large collection of lawmakers introduced the Marketplace Fairness Act in both the Senate (S. 336) and the House (H.R. 684). Lawmakers who oppose the measure have renamed it more appropriately, the “National Internet Tax Mandate” because that’s what it is.

The law essentially does three things:

1. Forces customers to pay sales taxes for online purchases.
2. Forces states to “simplify” their sales tax laws.
3. Forces online retailers to collect and remit state sales taxes..

That’s right, no transaction in America must be allowed without the State taking its portion. The legislation has so much corporate support that it has its very own website which describes the law as follows:

The Marketplace Fairness Act grants states the authority to compel online and catalog retailers (“remote sellers”), no matter where they are located, to collect sales tax at the time of a transaction – exactly like local retailers are already required to do.

On the website they argue that this is not a new tax even though it hasn’t ever been enforced in the history of the Internet, saying “Consumers are required under existing state laws to pay sales and use taxes on the goods they purchase, but online sellers simply are not required to collect the tax in the same way that local businesses do – which puts local businesses at a disadvantage.”

The law attempts to solve two problems. First, it seeks to protect brick-and-mortar businesses from “unfair” competition from online retailers and, second, it seeks to increase revenues to state coffers.

Yet the lack of sales taxes is just a tiny part of why most brick-and-mortar retail businesses are struggling. The Internet offers a massively competitive marketplace for the same products, thus better prices. Customer reviews are just a click away, and products can be purchased in our underwear from the comfort of our homes. No driving, no annoying salesman, no lines, etc.

Besides, leveling the taxes won’t work. For example, online retail giant Amazon.com started collecting state taxes in June 2012, and yet, in 2013 Barnes and Noble announced it would close up to 500 stores over the next decade. They’re not closing their storefronts because of unfair taxing systems, rather because the business itself has changed due to the Internet. Borders Books declared bankruptcy in order to restructure to this new model. No law can save retailers who don’t adapt to the competitive realities of the Internet.

Next, the law attempts to boost state tax revenues, which it may do. But at what cost? And will this solve the state deficit problems?

The lobbyists, who no doubt put together the website for the legislation, write:

Although some suggest these States have a “spending problem” rather than a “revenue problem,” it is important to recognize that these States have already been reducing their spending levels year-over-year and increasing collection and enforcement efforts based upon their existing sales and use tax laws. However, a State can only enforce these laws within its own borders unless (or until) Congress recognizes the significant advances made by “man and his ingenuity with machines” over the last 44 years. Simply put, without the Marketplace Fairness Act, our States are unable to require remote retailers to collect the existing sales or use tax already approved by that state’s residents.

And what will be the cost to enforce this tax collection on every worldwide online retailer? Please don’t laugh, they actually believe it will be possible and beneficial.

The first thing that states must do is fall in line with other states to simplify (unify) their state sales tax laws:

States are only granted this authority after they have simplified their sales tax laws.

Simplification is required because of two Supreme Court rulings (Bellas Hess and Quill, described below) cite concern that collecting sales tax for multiple states would be too difficult.

The Marketplace Fairness Act requires that states must simplify their sales tax laws in order to ease those concerns and make multistate sales tax collection easy.

States are given two options for how to do this; join the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement, or adhere to the following rules:

  1. Notify retailers in advance of any rate changes within the state.
  2. Designate a single state organization to handle sales tax registrations, filings, and audits.
  3. Establish a uniform sales tax base for use throughout the state.
  4. Use destination sourcing to determine sales tax rates for out-of-state purchases (a purchase made by a consumer in California from a retailer in Ohio is taxed at the California rate, and the sales tax collected is remitted to California to fund projects and services there).
  5. Provide free software for managing sales tax compliance, and hold retailers harmless for any errors that result from relying on state-provided systems and data.
Yes, they give “free software” to help online retailers comply with the regulations, ehem, taxes. Surely, the millions of average people who make a living from selling things online won’t have any problem getting up to speed complying with regulations taxes for all 50 states. Most of them have lots of time to learn new software, accounting, and mailing 50 more checks.

It won’t put any small online retailers out of business, right? Regulations are good for business, right?

This law is bad for customers, worse for online retailers, and the effectiveness for helping brick-and-mortar businesses and increasing tax revenues is questionable. The one thing it does is begin to regulate small online retailers who will have to comply.

Former Congressman Ron Paul vehemently warned against the government toying with the Internet, calling it the last “truly free market” left. His technology manifesto, through Campaign For Liberty, states:

Technology revolutionaries succeeded not because of some collectivist vision that seeks to regulate “fairness”, “neutrality”, “privacy” or “competition” through coercive state actions, or that views the Internet and technology as a vast commons that must be freely available to all, but rather because of the same belief as America’s Founders who understood that private property is the foundation of prosperity and freedom itself.

Technology revolutionaries succeed because of the decentralized nature of the Internet, which defies government control.

As a consequence, decentralization has unlocked individual self-empowerment, entrepreneurialism, creativity, innovation and the creation of new markets in ways never before imagined in human history.

But, ironically, just as decentralization has unleashed the potential for free markets and individual freedom on a global scale, collectivist special interests and governments worldwide are now tirelessly pushing for more centralized control of the Internet and technology.

If this legislation passes you can bet it will open the door for the government to begin regulating more aspects of Internet businesses. This must be opposed.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE

There’s A Staggering Conspiracy Behind The Rise of The Consumer Culture

(BUSINESS INSIDER)   Americans weren’t always addicted to buying things. Long before U.S. consumers racked up $11.3 trillion in aggregate debt, people used to save money for things they actually needed.

But in the age of plenty that followed World War I, corporations countered the threat of overproduction with a manipulative psychological strategy.

“We must shift America from a needs, to a desires culture,” wrote Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers. “People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

This conspiracy, enabled by new sophistication in advertising and supported by the government, was shockingly effective.

For more on the origins of consumer culture, we turn to the BBC‘s excellent documentary, “Century Of Self.”

Facebook among US corporations that pay no income taxes

(RT)   As a result of tax loopholes and deductions, the social media giant Facebook paid no income taxes for the fiscal year 2012, despite reaping $1.1 billion in US corporate profits, according to a new report.

While Americans have just been subjected to higher taxes, billion-dollar corporations like Facebook, General Electric, Boeing and Wells Fargo have all been able to avoid paying any corporate income taxes, reports Citizens for Tax Justice.

Assuming that the report is accurate, Facebook will collect $429 million in net tax refunds for the last fiscal year. On top of the $1.1 billion US corporate profits it made last year, the company continues to remain financially superior while poor and middle-class Americans struggle to pay back the national debt.

Even though Facebook’s stock value remains low, the company was able to use its public offering to its advantage: the social media giant has been able to take advantage of the tax deduction available to those with executive stock options.

That tax break alone reduced Facebook’s federal and state income taxes by more than $1 million in 2012. And with its public offering of stock, Facebook is “also carrying forward another $2.17 billion in additional tax-option tax breaks for use in future years,” the report states.

Its current and future tax reductions therefore total $3.2 billion

And while deductions and loopholes continue to exist, thereby giving wealthy corporations a way out of paying taxes, the US government continues to debate how to pay back its $6 trillion debt and taxes continue to rise for all Americans – including low-income and middle-class citizens. The Social Security portion of the payroll tax rose from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent this year, while the top marginal tax rate (affecting individuals making more than $400,000 a year) increased from 35 percent to 39.6 percent. A number of other specific taxes have also been raised as the US continues to struggle with the deficit.

Meanwhile, large corporations continue to benefit from stock option tax breaks, among other loopholes and deductions. And lawmakers have done little to change these. In 2011, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) introduced the “Ending Excess Executive Corporate Deductions for Stock Options Act”. The bill would prevent companies from deducting more stock options than than they have recorded as a book expense. Levin claims that the excess deduction returns about $12 billion and $61 billion a year to US corporations.

“Because companies typically low-ball the estimated values, they usually end up with bigger tax deductions than they deduct from the profits they report to shareholders,” the report states.

But lawmakers have failed to pass the bill. Levin hopes to reintroduce similar legislation in 2013. Unless loopholes and deductions are addressed, Facebook can continue to avoid paying income taxes and avoid paying the IRS billions of dollars.

“When profitable corporations can use the stock option tax reduction to pay zero corporate income taxes for years on end, average taxpayers are forced to pick up the tax burden,” Levin said last year, shortly before Facebook went public.

http://rt.com/usa/news/facebook-income-tax-year-342/

It’s Coming: The Government Wants to “Help Manage” Retirement Accounts

(Mike Krieger)   Many people, including myself, have discussed this threat over the past several years.  The obvious concept is that when the government runs out of money, or they face a drying up in interest for its debt, they will come for the $19.4 trillion in American’s retirement accounts.  It seems that day may be finally drawing near.

I stopped contributing to my 401k back when I worked at Bernstein, and I will probably now have to give more serious consideration whether I want to take the penalty and move the funds out of my retirement account entirely.  I haven’t made any decisions, but will be watching closely.

I’m sure the government is just trying to protect your retirement account from terrorists.

From Bloomberg:

The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is weighing whether it should take on a role in helping Americans manage the $19.4 trillion they have put into retirement savings, a move that would be the agency’s first foray into consumer investments.

“That’s one of the things we’ve been exploring and are interested in in terms of whether and what authority we have,” bureau director Richard Cordray said in an interview. He didn’t provide additional details.

The bureau’s core concern is that many Americans, notably those from the retiring Baby Boom generation, may fall prey to financial scams, according to three people briefed on the CFPB’s deliberations who asked not to be named because the matter is still under discussion.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Labor are the main regulators of U.S. retirement savings vehicles and funds. However, the consumer bureau — established by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act — sees itself as a potential catalyst for promoting a coherent policy across the government, the people said.

Full article here.

In Liberty,
Mike

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