Earlier this month, the Facebook Inc. released its first “10-K” annual financial report since going public last year. Hidden in the report’s footnotes is an amazing admission: despite $1.1 billion in U.S. profits in 2012, Facebook did not pay even a dime in federal and state income taxes.
Instead, Facebook says it will receive net tax refunds totaling $429 million.
Facebook’s income tax refunds stem from the company’s use of a single tax break, the tax deductibility of executive stock options. That tax break reduced Facebook’s federal and state income taxes by $1,033 million in 2012, including refunds of earlier years’ taxes of $451 million
Facebook will be able to carry further tax rebates forward, according to CTJ, for a total of $3 billion in tax deductions.
“When profitable corporations can use the stock option tax deduction to pay zero corporate income taxes for years on end, average taxpayers are forced to pick up the tax burden,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) when this issue arose as Facebook was preparing its initial public offering last year. This tax preference for corporations costs the U.S. about $2 billion in revenue per year.
The sharp drop in Arctic sea ice area has been matched by a harder-to-see, but equally sharp, drop in sea ice thickness. The combined result has been a collapse in total sea ice volume — to one fifth of its level in 1980.
Arctic sea ice volume in 1000s of cubic kilometers (via Robinson)
Back in September, Climate Progress reported that the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 probe appeared to support the key conclusion of the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS) at the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center: Arctic sea ice volume has been collapsing much faster than sea ice area (or extent) because the ice has been getting thinner and thinner.
Now the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the UK’s primary agency for funding and managing environmental sciences research, has made it official. In a Wednesday press release, they report:
Arctic sea ice volume has declined by 36 per cent in the autumn and 9 per cent in the winter between 2003 and 2012, a UK-led team of scientists has discovered….
The findings confirm the continuing decline in Arctic sea-ice volume simulated by the Pan-Arctic Ice-Ocean Modelling & Assimilation System (PIOMAS), which estimates the volume of Arctic sea ice and had been checked using earlier submarine, mooring, and satellite observations until 2008.
This should be the story of the day, week, month, year, and decade. As NERC notes, sea ice volume is “a much more accurate indicator of the changes taking place in the Arctic.”
It will also accelerate global warming in the region, which in turn will likely accelerate both the disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet and the release of the vast amounts of carbon currently locked in the permafrost.
“Other people had argued that 75 to 80 percent ice volume loss was too aggressive. What this new paper shows is that our ice loss estimates may have been too conservative, and that the recent decline is possibly more rapid.”
Creative tech guru and programming analyst Andy Lee Robinson has made a video of the PIOMAS data
NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre on Thursday offered a rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union, featuring a range of intensely paranoid — and utterly incorrect — assertions about Obama’s proposals to strengthen gun laws.
LaPierre’s speech came just one day after publishing a race-baiting, paranoid op-ed on the same topic. And Thursday’s appearance, while less overtly crazy than the op-ed, was also clearly meant to confuse its viewers and skew the information in favor of the NRA. Here were the two biggest, craziest, most paranoid lies in LaPierre’s speech:
“Bans on private transfers, even between family members.” President Obama wants to require background checks on all private sales and transfers of firearms, but he has absolutely no intention of banning such sales. The only reason a person would be unable to buy a gun from a family member would be if the recipient has a criminal record.
“A national registration of every single gun owner in this country.” Again, totally off base. This is the same attempt by LaPierre to conflate background checks with registries or bans. By requiring universal background checks, Obama wouldn’t be requiring a database of gun owners; simply, he would be mandating that the list of criminals in the already-existent National Instant Criminal Background Check System be maintained, updated, and used for all sales.
LaPierre’s speech the latest in a long line of attempts by the NRA to terrify gun owners and try to coerce them into joining his organization, thus raising their revenue — an obvious benefit for the NRA. By misrepresenting Obama’s proposals, LaPierre is trying to shore up the influence that is slipping from the NRA elsewhere.
Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act in the Senate on Thursday to “establish a regular review process in which the Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary would evaluate the progress of medical research” into organ transplants between two HIV-positive people, with the eventual goal of eliminating the ban on such procedures entirely.
The amendment that led to the current ban was a consequence of the poor understanding of HIV/AIDS-related matters at the time. But as Coburn — who is a physician — said in a press release introducing the legislation, “Our scientific understanding of AIDS is much better than when this research ban was established. Those infected with HIV are now living much longer and, as a consequence, are suffering more kidney and liver failures. If research shows positive results, HIV positive patients will have an increased pool of donors.”
The number of HIV-positive patients successfully receiving liver, kidney, and heart transplants has been on the rise overall, as there is no formal law prohibiting HIV-positive patients from receiving organs from Americans who do not carry the virus. But the new push to end the ban on transplants between two HIV-positive individuals reflects the huge strides in HIV treatments and medical innovation over the last two decades, including the recent FDA approval of a once-a-day HIV treatment pill and vastly increased life expectancy for HIV-positive Americans.
Opening up avenues for organ transplants is especially critical given America’s unsustainable dearth of annually performed transplant operations, which leaves more than 70,000 Americans on transplant lists without the organs they need every year. “With so many lives at stake, it is time to end this outdated ban on research into organ donations between HIV-positive individuals,” Boxer said in the release. A concurrent bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA), a registered nurse.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told us how he really feels about Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel on Fox News this afternoon, saying “people don’t forget” when you cross your own party.
Speaking to Fox News host Neil Cavuto, McCain said that he still believed that Hagel would get the votes required to be confirmed. What followed was the clearest indication yet that he’s still bitter that Hagel turned against the Iraq War:
McCAIN: But to be honest with you, Neil, it goes back to there’s a lot of ill will towards Senator Hagel because when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly and say he was the worst President since Herbert Hoover and said the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War, which was nonsense. He was anti-his own party and people — people don’t forget that. You can disagree but if you’re disagreeable, then people don’t forget that.
McCain had just voted “no” on the bid to end debate on Hagel’s nomination, supporting the Republican filibuster. Just days ago, McCain insisted that he would do no such thing, and is currently claiming that he’ll vote to break the filibuster following the Senate’s President’s Day recess ten days from now.
The two, formerly close friends, faced off during Hagel’s confirmation hearing over the success of the 2007 surge in Iraq, highlighting McCain’s lingering frustrations with the former Republican Senator from Nebraska. That frustration is shared among many of Hagel’s other opponents, including the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol, forming the backbone of neoconservative opposition to his confirmation. McCain is right, however, that once the filibuster breaks Hagel is still set to be confirmed in an up-or-down vote.
Item #1 on his list — file a blizzard of lawsuits while the judiciary is still controlled by the kind of judges who think there’s absolutely no difference between a corporation and a human being:
[W]e are going to devise legal capability like never before. I fervently hope that President Obama does not get to appoint another anti-gun Supreme Court justice like Sonia Sotomayor or Elena Kagan. But he probably will, and we must meet that challenge. His chances of appointing a replacement for one of the five pro-rights justices in the 5-4 Heller and McDonald majorities are high. And there’s no doubt he is going to appoint a huge number of new judges to lifetime positions in the lower federal courts.
That means the federal courts are going to get worse and worse. So some cases, on which we might have improved our chances of victory by waiting a while, are going to have to be brought now.
It should be noted that the NRA isn’t just trying to lock in victories with the judge’s they have, they’ve also demanded a veto power over new judges — and Republicans appear all too eager to give it to them. In 2011, Senate Republicans voted almost unanimously to filibuster a nominee to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit named Caitlan Halligan. Although the GOP’s case against Halligan was thin, their top argument against her was that she is unfit for the bench because she argued a position the NRA disagrees with when she was Solicitor General of New York.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) used her debut on the Senate Banking Committee to question financial regulators about the lack of accountability for Wall Street banks’ role in the financial crisis, challenging them to name the last time a Wall Street bank was taken to trial over allegations of fraud and other crimes instead of being allowed to settle out of court.
“What I’d like to know is, tell me a little bit about the last few times you’ve taken the biggest financial institutions on Wall Street all the way to a trial,” Warren asked the regulators. But none provided a specific answer. That led Warren to wonder if Wall Street banks had become “too big for trial”:
WARREN: I just want to note on this: there are district attorneys and U.S. Attorneys who are out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds and taking them to trial in order to make an example, as they put it. I’m really concerned that “too big to fail” has become “too big for trial.”
Watch it (at 3:50):
Prosecution of financial fraud hit a 20-year low in 2011, even amid broad findings of fraud that took place at the biggest banks. The government has instead reached settlements over mortgage and foreclosure fraud, and other alleged crimes with a multitude of banks, and while those settlements are significant, they have also beenplaguedwithproblems. And as Warren noted, settling out of court has also prevented the public from “days of testimony” from banking officials that would result from trials.
Though Warren came to the Senate with a reputation for being tough on banks, she is hardly alone in her criticism of the lack of legal action that has been taken against them. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) blasted the “get-out-of-jail-free card” the banks seem to hold, and he and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) petitioned the Justice Department last month over concerns that big banks had become “too big to jail.”
Whether you’re coupled or single, Valentine’s Day can be pretty stressful. Restaurants are crowded. Flowers are overpriced. And like New Year’s Eve, another constructed holiday that’s supposed to be the best night ever, it’s actually impossible to do much more than meet basic expectations. But if you’re doing the wise thing and staying in for the evening, but still want to entertain yourself, you can actually have a pretty good time. And thanks to the wonder of streaming video, you can do all of it without any advance planning.
If You Want To Celebrate Friendship, Not Romance: If you’re celebrating your female friends, Ann Friedman makes the case for Parks and Recreation‘s season-two episode “Galentine’s Day,” and for living every day as if friendship is just as important as love. But best friends don’t always have to be same-gender, and if you’re a guy celebrating a female friend or vice versa, I recommend the terminally-underrated TBS sitcom My Boys, which stars Jordana Spiro as a Chicago sportswriter with a group of male poker and bar buddies. And if you’re dealing with a happiness imbalance in your best friendships, The Trip, a road trip involving comedians, amazing food, and Michael Caine impersonations, is incredible.
If You’re Exhausted By Valentine’s Day Commercialism: The good people over at Vulture are debatingSleepless In Seattle v. You’ve Got Mail. But they’re both wrong! The best Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan romantic comedy is the deeply weird Joe Versus The Volcano, in which a disgruntled factory worker gets asked by a wealthy industrialist to jump into a volcano so he can continue mining a valuable metal, and along the way to his fiery death, ends up dating three different Meg Ryans. It’s delightful. Or if the king and queen of romantic comedies aren’t your cup of tea, there’s always The Jonses, in which David Duchovy and Demi Moore play a fake family whose job is to model an aspirational lifestyle and to ramp up spending in whatever neighborhood they’re moved in to. It’s less lighthearted, but much sharper about the recession!
You’re Working On Your Work-Love Balance: It’s been a rough couple of years for romantic comedies, but Morning Glory is the rare bright spot. It’s the slightly surreal story of Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams), a workaholic morning news show producer, who is rewarded for being awesome at her job with Patrick Wilson and the sight of Harrison Ford making her a frittata on national television. From the back catalogue, there’s Soapdish, the weirdest, best workplace romantic comedy of all time, which features Sally Field as a soap opera star, Kevin Klein as her ex-husband doing dinner theater, Robert Downey Jr. as an easily-manipulatable network executive, and Whoopi Goldberg as a deeply put-upon writer.
You’re Feeling Totally, Sentimentally Romantic: I’m all for fighting the romance-industrial complex if you feel like it, but that doesn’t have to mean that love is dead! If you’re in the mood to give in, here are two ways to go. You could dig into Baz Luhrmann’s back catalogue and watch Strictly Ballroom, his lush, but comparatively low-fi movie about competitive ballroom dancing competitions in Australia, Spanish immigrants to the continent, and the power of “Time After Time.” And if you want a little film school to go with your heart-warming, watch The Lady Eve, if only for this scene:
And the fact that every woman should want to be as tough as Barbara Stanwyck in this movie, and every man should be cool enough to want to date her.
As public health advocates and federal regulators increasingly turn their attention to dangerous energy drink products, one of the industry’s most popular brands — Monster — is relabeling itself as an energy “drink” instead of a “dietary supplement,” the Denver Post reports.
Dietary supplement manufacturers have greater leeway over what types of ingredients they can include in their products, but also face more stringent reporting requirements when it comes to possible adverse effects on consumers. While it is unclear whether or not the labeling change — and the corresponding changes in the regulations Monster is subject to — will lead the company to drop controversial caffeine-like ingredients like taurine from its drinks, the decision reflects lawmakers’ recent inquiries into energy product safety:
Generally speaking, companies have more leeway in the ingredients they can add to dietary supplements. With products considered to be food or drinks, companies can only use ingredients that are approved food additives or that are “generally recognized as safe,” said Elizabeth Campbell, a senior adviser at EAS Consulting Group, which specializes in FDA regulatory matters.
Among the issues lawmakers have raised over energy drinks is that they sometimes contain little-known ingredients, such as the taurine used in some Monster drinks. Campbell, who previously worked at the FDA for 35 years, said taurine is not approved for use in food and is not listed in the database of notifications for “generally recognized as safe” ingredients. Companies are responsible for submitting their own research to show an ingredient is “generally recognized as safe.”
A spokesman for Monster Beverage was not able to confirm the report in Beverage Digest or whether the Corona, Calif., company would remove any ingredients as a result of any possible labeling changes. [...]
Notably, companies that make dietary supplements are required to report incidents of adverse effects to the FDA while food makers are not. A spokeswoman for the FDA did not immediately know how many, if any, reports of adverse effects Monster had made to the agency.
The number of energy drink-related emergency room visits doubled to a staggering 20,000 between 2007 and 2011. Excess caffeine in easily-available beverages first came under the public spotlight when consumption of the alcoholic malt beverage and energy drink Four Loko started sending teenagers to the hospital, eventually leading the company to drop caffeine from its products.