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SPLIT FROM SLOVAKIA, THE CZECH REPUBLIC IS A PICTURE-BOOK COUNTRY WITH GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES
Those who recoil against the idea of having to relearn the redrawn post-World War II maps of their childhood, or who buy into Abraham Lincoln's notion of a nation state being a "perpetual union" that should not be rent asunder, will have to take a chill pill. In 1993, the former Czechoslovakia dissolved, as the Czech Republic effected a "velvet divorce" from its theretofore eastern better half, Slovakia -- undoing a sporadically rocky marriage of 70-odd years. Present relations between Czechs and Slovaks are widely characterized as better than they have ever been. No movement to reunite Czechoslovakia has appeared and no political party has reunification as part of its platform. Just think what can happen when people give up the idea of exploiting each other and go their seperate political ways peacefully!
Currently, Forbes, in its 2008 International Investing Guide, tabs the Czech Republic as a place worthy of investors' attention. The earnings multiples are not super-cheap, and the featured stocks are selling near their highs for the most part, but Forbes argues that it is worth paying a quality premium. The article's concluding table, "A Little Opportunity," summarizes the case thusly: "The Czech Republic has the same population as Michigan, but it has a thriving economy, strong currency and investment opportunities via local companies and multinationals operating in the country."
Central Europe has transformed its economies in the two decades since communism's fall. The Czech Republic, the more affluent half of the former Czechoslovakia, is a vivid example. Leveraging a well-educated but relatively low-paid workforce at the crossroads of western and eastern Europe, this country has attracted multinational companies, especially financial services firms such as Diners Club International, Hertz Lease and American Express. It has also developed thriving tourism and seen a strong rise in real estate values.
Result: One of the fastest-growing economies in Europe. Over the past several years the Czech Republic's GDP has grown at a 4%-to-5% annual clip, though it might slow down a bit this year as growth slacks off in Germany. Sweeter yet, for U.S. investors, the koruna has gained more against the U.S. dollar during the past 12 months than has the euro. During this time the Morgan Stanley index for the Czech stock market has had a total return of 8% in local currency but 47% in dollar terms.
The Czech stock market's average price/earnings ratio, 16, is higher than Russia's 12. On the other hand it does not quite have Russia's reputation for robbing and harassing foreigners who send capital into the country. You can get in on Czech growth by owning shares of companies either headquartered there or doing business there from a base outside, as in Germany.
"The Czech Republic is like Spain was ten years ago," says Ralf Oberbannscheidt, who manages the Central Europe & Russia Fund at Deutsche Bank. Three years ago Spanish telecom behemoth Telefónica bought 69% of the incumbent operator, Cesky Telecom, now renamed Telefónica O2 Czech Republic. This subsidiary offers broadband Internet access and mobile services. Oberbannscheidt likes its earnings profile and 10% yield.
Zentiva, with pharmaceutical plants in the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia and Turkey, and listings in London and Prague, has built up a large presence in central and eastern Europe by selling branded but off-patent drugs to primary care physicians. Unlike other generics makers it employs a large sales force. In June Zentiva became the object of a bidding war between its two largest shareholders, Sanofi-Aventis and PPF, a private investment group.
Utilities provide a solid investment. CEZ Group, with $9.7 billion in revenues, grew from utilities that were privatized in the early 1990s and later merged; it also acquired power plants and distribution companies in Bulgaria, Romania and Poland to form one of the ten largest energy-generating-and-distributing companies in Europe. Claiming the highest profitability and lowest debt of any utility in Europe, the company continues to grow by joint ventures with other energy-generating companies, such as MOL in Hungary. It has also diversified into telecommunications, mining and construction.
One of the largest Czech banks is Komercni Banka. It has tapped into a population with low household debt and expanding earnings, and it seems to be positioned to withstand the buffeting it has had from the credit crisis. France's Société Générale, which has suffered its own challenges after a trader allegedly orchestrated the largest banking fraud in history, has a 60% stake.
Another company tapping into the thriving consumer market is Central European Media Enterprises (Nasdaq: CETV), domiciled in Bermuda but broadcasting TV shows, commercials and movies to 90 million people in six European countries. In the majority of these countries it commands 25% or more of the prime-time broadcast market share. First-quarter revenue of $223 million was up 51% from 2007. The stock sells for 19 times its Thomson IBES consensus earnings forecast for 2009, but analysts expect 27% long-term annualized earnings growth.
IRISH ISLANDS COULD BECOME TAX HAVENS
An intriguing suggestion has been made to turn a set of Ireland's islands into tax havens, in the sense of offering substantial tax breaks to people who choose to live there. A total of 3,000 people live on the islands now, and population has been declining in recent years.
For centuries, illicit poitin has been the only tax-free commodity on Ireland's islands -- despite the best efforts of the English who first introduced a levy on distilled spirits in 1660 to pay the debts incurred by Cromwell's wars. Now, under proposals put forward by Udaras na Gaeltachta, all the Irish islands could become tax havens -- modeled loosely on the tax-free principality of Andorra.
The regional authority responsible for the economic, social and cultural development of the Gaeltacht has proposed a radical plan to the Commission on Taxation recommending a special taxation incentive scheme for islands.
The islands that could benefit from a change in tax status include Tory and Aranmore islands in County Donegal, Clare Island in County Mayo, the Aran Islands and Inishbofin in County Galway, and the County Cork islands of Cape Clear, Bere Island and Sherkin Island. Making the islands tax-free would promote economic activity on them and attract people to live there. The last three censuses taken in Ireland have each shown a decline in population.
One part of the proposal is a pilot scheme that people living on these islands for at least six months of the year would be able to earn €100,000 a year tax free for 10 years -- even if they earn their money on the mainland. The exemption would apply to both new and existing businesses on the islands.
Udaras has also proposed having a 100% capital allowances/free depreciation write-off for any equipment or buildings provided for use in a business allowable against non-exempt income and a BES-type tax relief to apply to investors who invest capital in any business located on the islands. They also propose a VAT-refund scheme to be implemented for community-based activities that require capital expenditure on buildings and fit out.
Padraig O hAolain, CEO of Udaras na Gaeltachta, said: "While the infrastructure of our offshore islands has been substantially upgraded in recent years -- and substantial State investment is currently being made in this sector -- and while access via air and ferry services has been greatly improved, the overall population of the offshore islands continues to decline.
"As far as our function of enterprise promotion is concerned, the most challenging task for us is to create new employment and income-enhancement opportunities for island residents and especially for young islanders and islanders wishing to return to reside on the islands. We feel this is what holds the key to the future viability of the island communities."
At the moment, only 3,000 people could be described as permanent residents of the islands. The proposal is aimed at all islands, both within and outside the Gaeltacht.
Mr. O hAolain says the proposal has a relatively modest overall potential cost to the exchequer, but is believed could have the effect of giving a huge boost to the future sustainability of island life.
Europe has a number of tax havens, including the small principality of Andorra, which has a population of just 65,000. Companies and individuals pay no taxes in Andorra though there are annual registration fees, rates and property transaction taxes.
COOK ISLANDS PASSES INTERNATIONAL LLC ACT CONTAINING ASSET PROTECTION FEATURES
This news comes by way of a PR announcement from a Cook Islands firm, Southpac Group, which has a vested interest in promoting the enhanced legal structure. The firm's general manager actually helped with the crafting of the legislation, so presumably they know whereof they speak.
The LLC legislation itself is quite interesting. It explicitly incorporates certain asset protection features of U.S. LLCs, particularly those which concern LLC charging orders, which might otherwise grant some wiggle room to would-be claimants. This should in principle provide addition asset protection features to the structure when compared to its U.S. counterparts.
Southpac is pleased to announce that the Cook Islands Parliament has enacted a new, comprehensive limited liability company act. Brian Mason, the General Manager of the Southpac Group of companies, was instrumental in coordinating the drafting of this legislation. Fielding contributions from a number of leading business and asset protection planning attorneys in the United States, the Cook Islands International Limited Liability Company Act (2008) offers unique advantages not found in any other jurisdiction. Combining a Cook Islands trust with a Cook Islands LLC now offers the most comprehensive form of asset protection available.
The Cook Islands International LLC Act specifies that the charging order is the sole and exclusive remedy of a creditor against a member's LLC interest. However, unlike LLC laws in the United States, the Cook Islands law clarifies that the charging order does not constitute a lien on a member's interest, and it does not make the creditor an assignee of a membership interest. A member whose interest is subject to a charging order continues to exercise the rights of a member. These rules apply whether the LLC has one member or several.
Emphasis added on that last sentence. This is a major difference from U.S. state LLCs.
The Cook Islands International LLC Act further limits the effect of a charging order by spelling out that a creditor has no right to participate in or interfere with the management of the LLC. The creditor cannot seize or liquidate LLC assets, restrict the business of the LLC, or force a dissolution of the LLC.
A charging order cannot be obtained to recover punitive damages, treble damages, or any other form of monetary award that is exemplary in nature. Furthermore, foreign judgments concerning the use of a member's interest to satisfy a creditor's claim are not recognized in the Cook Islands. The LLC is not subject to discovery orders or injunctions issued in relation to a member or a membership interest.
The Cook Islands have taken the novel step of allowing members to decide whether to opt out of the asset protection features of the International LLC Act. This may be useful for clients engaged in international business transactions.
The provisions of Cook Islands confidentiality law apply to LLCs established under the new International LLC Act. Members should enjoy complete confidentiality with respect to their ownership of an LLC interest.
While the new LLC Act provides several formidable asset protection barriers, the LLC is not intended to serve as a substitute for what is widely regarded as the most powerful tool for asset protection available today: the Cook Islands asset protection trust. Rather, it is hoped that clients engaged in asset protection planning will utilize a Cook Islands LLC in conjunction with a Cook Islands trust to secure the greatest degree of protection and investment flexibility.
The Cook Islands is the leading jurisdiction for offshore asset protection planning. Southpac helped author the first ever asset protection trust law, the Cook Islands International Trusts Act (1982), which has served as the template for similar legislation in over a dozen other countries and several U.S. states. The Cook Islands trust offers important asset protection benefits such as a shortened statute of limitations on fraudulent transfer claims and a heightened burden of proof that creditors must meet to bring claims against a trust in the Cook Islands.
The remainder of the announcement informs the reader of Southpac's many offerings and virtues. It appears that many asset protection considerations and a good knowledge of U.S. LLC case law has informed the new Cook Islands LLC legislation. Impressive in many ways. It will be seen how effective the measures proove to be in practice against the the voracious appetites of the world's tax and spend behemoths.
GERMANY REACHES TAX DATA DEAL WITH JERSEY
Germany and Jersey have signed a TIEA, which is probably not particularly significant in and of itself, but is taken as a sign of another tax haven knuckling under to the recent pressure from the large, high-tax countries.
Germany signed its first tax information exchange agreement with an offshore center yesterday, in a sign of the continuing crackdown on secrecy in the wake of the Liechtenstein tax evasion scandal.
Its agreement with Jersey, which has already agreed to exchange information with the Netherlands and the U.S., is a sign that some offshore centers are keen to shed the "tax haven" tag and promote themselves as well-regulated financial centers. Pressure to reform tax havens has mounted after a former Liechtenstein bank employee sold information to Germany revealing widespread evasion.
Finance ministers from the Group of Eight nations, who met in Osaka last month, called for stronger action against evasion. They said: "In view of the recent developments, we urge all countries that have not yet fully implemented the OECD standards of transparency and effective exchange of information in tax matters to do so without further delay."
The U.S. is ratcheting up its anti-evasion efforts after a federal judge was asked to issue a summons requiring Swiss bank UBS to turn over information about US taxpayers who might be using Swiss bank accounts to evade federal income taxes.
Three out of seven of the largest industrialized countries have signed information exchange agreements with six offshore centers as part of a long-running OECD drive against secrecy. Tax authorities worldwide are co-operating more frequently against evasion, while several countries have launched tax "amnesties" to persuade evaders to come forward.
The OECD blacklist of uncooperative tax havens has diminished in recent years from its original 35 named jurisdictions to just Liechtenstein, Monaco and Andorra. But concerns have been raised, particularly by France and Germany, over countries such as Panama that have failed to implement pledged reforms. These countries have refused to reform their secrecy laws until similar reforms have been undertaken by OECD countries, particularly Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg.
How obstreperous of Panama. Enough of that logic ... hand it over!
NEW TAX FRAUD ALLEGATIONS AGAINST FORMER CAYMAN ISLANDS BANKER
“The most singularly important government cooperator in tax haven prosecutions in the history of the IRS” is in trouble again.
In order to avoid a severe sentence for tax evasion and money laundering, Cayman Islands banker John Mathewson turned over his bank's records to the IRS in 1999. This enabled the IRS to recover $50 million in back taxes and penalties in that year, with the possibility of netting more over time. This is yet another in a long line of examples of why relying on secrecy for asset protection is a bad idea.
Now allegations have surfaced that Mathewson has been evading taxes again, since the 1999 plea bargain. The orginal accusation was made by a business partner who believes he was unfairly treated by Mathewson. Wheather the accusation has any merrit or not, it is unclear to us why anyone would want to be in business with someone with a record of treating his partners (the bank clients) as so many bargaining chips.
The Miami-based online newsletter, Offshore Alert, has reported in a July 2 publication that new allegations of tax fraud in the U.S. have been made against a former Cayman Islands-based banker. John Mathewson, 80, residing in San Antonio, Texas, is the target of a new investigation into tax fraud by the IRS. This is after Mr. Mathewson, a former president of Guardian Bank and Trust in the Cayman Islands, gained notoriety when he gave U.S. prosecutors records of his bank in 1999 as part of a plea bargain in return for leniency on tax evasion and money laundering charges in the 1990s.
Mr. Mathewson, who at the time had faced a possible 5-year prison term, was, instead, sentenced to 5 years' probation, 500 hours community service and a $30,000 fine for his cooperation.
Offshore Alert has reported, however, that a new investigation began after another former offshore-based private banker, Swiss national Roland Hurni-Gosman, allegedly "informed on Mathewson to the IRS and made a claim under the tax agency's Informant Reward Program for 10% of any funds that are recovered from Mathewson as a result of the tip."
According to Offshore Alert, Mr. Hurni-Gosman, 60, and residing in England, was a former resident of ... the Bahamas, "where he appears to have been the CEO of Apex Bank and Trust Company Limited, whose license was revoked by the Central Bank of the Bahamas in 2001, and Guernsey, in the Channel Islands, where he appears to have been a senior officer of Banque Generale du Luxembourg (Suisse) SA."
However, Mr Hurni-Gosman is known to have been a resident of the Cayman Islands in the 1980s, working with the then Swiss Bank Corporation, one of whose clients at the time was Mr. Matthewson. He later moved to Guernsey, where he was employed by another Swiss bank, Credit Suisse. He was also, according to reports, Mr. Mathewson's business partner in a Texas-based oil and gas venture and made the move to inform to the IRS after the two had a disagreement over the distribution of profits concerning the project.
You should be careful about who you anger when they have information you wish to keep hidden.
Mr. Hurni-Gosman had filed a civil suit against Mr. Mathewson at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, in which a financial corporation located in the British Virgin Islands, called Akuna Matata Investments Limited, which is beneficially owned by Mr. Hurni-Gosman and his wife, was seeking damages awarded to the company after it claims it was swindled out of profits after investing $250,000 to "help develop oil and gas leases and wells in Colorado County, Texas" with two Texas-based firms affiliated with Mr. Mathewson.
Although unrelated to the IRS matter, the suit helped make public the new proceedings against Mr. Mathewson. ... Meanwhile, reports are that Mr. Mathewson is now suing the IRS to prevent the agency from enforcing a judgement for $11.3 million that it obtained against him at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida since 1993 in a dispute concerning unpaid taxes for the 1972 and 1974 through 1985.
Mr. Mathewson's claim is that he had an "understanding" with the U.S. Department of Justice that in return for his cooperation by providing Guardian Bank's clients, the million-dollar judgement would not be enforced. Now accusing the IRS of a "double cross and broken promise," Mr. Mathewson said in his suit: "(Mathewson) exposed the workings of the illicit offshore banking industry and single-handedly provided intelligence and cooperation resulting in numerous successful prosecutions and the recovery of over $3 billion in unpaid tax liabilities, interest, and penalties from criminals and other tax-evaders."
The case against Mr. Mathewson in 1999 had, indeed, brought to light the goings-on in offshore tax havens in the Caribbean, as he had relinquished names, which included nearly 2,000 U.S. depositors and allowed the IRS to recover $50 million in back taxes and penalties in that year, with the possibility of netting more than $300 million in unpaid taxes and penalties.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Carney had said at the time of Mr. Mathewson's sentencing: "It was, in effect, the functional equivalent of having the records of an offshore bank available in the United States for the first time." Mr. Carney also described Mr. Mathewson as "the most singularly important government cooperator in tax haven prosecutions in the history of the Internal Revenue Service."
BERMUDA MUST IMPROVE ITS ANTI-MONEY LAUDERING REGIME, SAYS UK
The anti-money laundering regulations, practices, and past performance of the British Overseas Territories -- Bermuda, Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, and Gibraltar -- are under the spotlight right now, and are generally found to be "in need of improvement." One would expect no less. However, as the territories are quick to remind everyone, Great Britain and the OECD countries would do well to remember the old Ann Landers aphorism: When you point your finger at someone else there are two pointed back at you.
The UK Foreign Affairs Committee has recommended that Bermuda keep working to improve its anti-money laundering regime in a report on the British Overseas Territories ... Financial regulator the Bermuda Monetary Authority (BMA) came in for criticism for its alleged lack of investigation of suspicious activity involving local companies in a statement given to UK MPs who make up the committee.
Committee chairman Mike Grapes, a Labour MP, said: "We recommend that the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) should encourage Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and Gibraltar to continue making progress in improving financial regulation, in particular in arrangements for investigating money laundering."
The report quotes financial professional Mike Hardy as telling the committee that "insufficient emphasis had been placed by regulators on the investigation of licensed companies, managers and executives with regard to suspicious activities."
Mr. Hardy claimed the BMA had not made one significant "official" criminal complaint, or suspicious activity report, to the Police Fraud Unit in 25 years. "It appears that the BMA, whilst dealing with unsavory situations by co-operating with overseas regulators and providing them with significant help where required to put criminals in jail in foreign jurisdictions, does not proactively investigate suspicious circumstances themselves," the report quotes Mr. Hardy as saying. Mr. Hardy called for the BMA, as well as a separate investigative branch to work closely with the Police, to step up to take on investigations.
Committee representatives visited the Island and met with the BMA's CEO, who spelled out the plans to strengthen the Island's anti-money laundering standards. The report also included a comment from the UK's National Audit Office, which pointed out that the Island's main business was corporate reinsurance, which was "lower-risk and therefore less likely to generate suspicious activity reports."
There was some sympathy in the report for a view expressed by the British Virgin Islands Financial Services Commission that onshore competitors were keen to accuse offshore centers of lax standards and frequently gave no recognition of their regulatory advances.
Not to mention that OFCs are usually held to stricter standards than the accusers hold themselves to, as one expects in a lord/serf relationship:
The FCO told the Committee: "We need to recognize there is significant international pressure to limit the role of the Overseas Territories in providing international financial services. The Overseas Territories are often expected to apply higher standards of regulation than some OECD countries."
RUSSIA MAY SOON REMOVE CYPRUS FROM TAX “BLACK LIST”
This dispute between Russia and Cyprus may actually be on the verge of being resolved -- by Cypress agreeing to Russian demands to supply information on Russian residents on demand. Since Cypress is a preferred offshore haven for Russians, the dispute has some substance behind it. This is essentially an Eastern European version of the familiar battle between the OECD countries and the various Offshore Financial Centers around the world.
Russia is looking closely at the possibility to remove Cyprus from its two tax "black lists", Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov told journalists in Moscow. He explained that the proposed move was connected to preferential tax treatment in Cyprus, as well as to the fact that it did not provide Russian government tax bodies with comprehensive information on Russian residents' operations there.
Shatalov noted that the Cypriot Finance Ministry took the proposed measure seriously and expressed readiness to provide information on Russian residents more fully and rapidly. The parties intend to hold two rounds of talks on the matter, the first one in September and the second in October-November, Shatalov said.
The issue at stake is the Russian Finance Ministry ruling on approving the list of states and territories granting the preferential tax treatment and/or not disclosing the data on financial transactions. The ruling that emerged in December of 2007 sets forth 41 offshore territories and it is tied up with the Tax Code amendments that took effect January 1, 2008.
Those amendments specify a zero tax on dividend profits generated by companies from an interest in other companies (i.e., their subsidiaries). Prior to 2008, the rate had been 9% or even 15% if the dividend had been paid by a non-resident company. Those payments' immunity from taxes was initiated by Vladimir Putin, who ordered the State Duma to create incentives for incorporating holdings in Russia in 2007.
The government and parliament conditioned the benefit to a number of terms. First, a holding should have a stake in the company paying dividend worth at least 500 million rubles (over $20 million). What is more, the company should not be incorporated in the offshore territories specified in the Finance Ministry's list of 2007.
The Russian Finance Ministry elaborated that list in view of two criteria -- the country's refusal to inform about financial transactions and the profit tax that is at least by a third lower than the rate in Russia (24%). Cyprus was added to the black list exactly for the lack of information, Shatalov said.
Cypriot Finance Minister Charilaos Stavrakis had previously told the Financial Mirror that the prospects of removing Cyprus from the two black lists was proceeding smoothly and he expressed his optimism that the whole issue should be solved by October when President Christofias will pay an official visit to Moscow.
PRIVACY – HOW TO DISAPPEAR
After a largely unexplained absense of six or so months, the e-magazine Escape from America, from EscapeArtist.com has returned. (Their publication Caribbean Property & Lifestyles Magazine, however, never missed a beat.) The July issue contains this article, which covers the basics of how to keep your life private or -- if you want to take the concept further -- how to "disappear."
My name is Frank M. Ahearn and if you read my other articles, you would know that I am in the business of teaching people how to disappear and be more private. I have updated some of the tools to disappearing and living a virtual life.
Start by getting an email address, I always suggests Hushmail or Mail.com. When checking your mail it is wise to do from an internet café away from where you live.
We certainly understand why he likes Hushmail, but are not sure why he recommends Mail.com. We used it way back when, and now it looks like some internet "portal" from the 1990s. For unencrypted email communication we recommend: (1) Fastmail, which has a sophisticated and fast Web interface without the privacy concerns that would come with Google Mail, and (2) Lavabit, which has a simple Web interface but offers a free POP3 and SMTP servers for those who would prefer to use a standard email client. Lavabit also offers spam filtering and strong privacy protection -- see the Privacy section of this page.
I think one of the greatest internet tools are Jfax and Efax fax numbers. You can have a voicemail box or fax number in every state and almost every country. How does it work, simply sign up and get a virtual number anywhere you want. You give the number out as your voicemail or fax: Your family, friends or clients contact you at your new number in Aruba and that transmission is forwarded to your above Hushmail address.
What is great about this service is you can fax from your laptop anywhere in the world.
If you need a full-blown virtual office, I recommend Onebox.
Cellular Phone Service
Before you buy cell phones for international use understand, an international cell phone is classified as a GSM mobile phone that operates on the GSM 900 and GSM 1800 frequency. An international cell phone with the appropriate sim card will provide coverage in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Pacific Rim including Australia. A world cell phone with the GSM 1900 frequency will expand coverage to include the United States, Canada and a growing part of South America.
To stay out from under the radar I suggest a prepaid cell phone from Telestial. For added security, I suggest using a prepaid international calling card to make calls on your prepaid phone. For [more] added security, I suggest you change your cell number or dump your phone every so often.
I use several cell phones, one for outgoing calls and the other for incoming. I have the incoming cell phone forwarded to another prepaid cell phone.
To have a physical mailing address I suggest Executive Mail Drop Service as advertised on EscapeArtist.com. They offer other services like virtual phone numbers and faxes; however, I suggest not having all of your services with one company, just in case someone breaches your information.
How to Make Money
One of my clients who expatriated to Madrid, Spain makes great living selling watches on eBay. Never touching the merchandise and having the funds transferred immediately into his Paypal account. My friend in Spain realized he had so much experience selling watches, he wrote an eBook about watches that tripled his income. Look at his site Classic Watch Company.
The internet is like the Wild West all over again, money to be made hand over fist. If you were a waiter, write that eBook How to Make Better Tips, if you were a taxi driver, write the eBook on Taxi Drivers Safety. Plenty of people are making money on eBooks you can as well. When you write that eBook send, it to EscapeArtist.com they are always looking for quality eBooks.
If you are not a criminal you do not need a new identity. There are several reasons for not obtaining a new identity beside the legalities. You do not know whose identity you are obtaining -- they could have $50 thousand in IRS judgments against them and the IRS can seize your bank account to satisfy the debt.
The new identity you obtain can have a warrant for an arrest, or a registered sex offender that has to register with the police because of the Megan's law. The idea of going to the cemetery and finding a child who died at an early age and obtain their information -- forget it, you missed the boat on this one -- it will not work.
Taxes & Income
Get a good accountant, audits are not fun. I speak from experience.
The laws are different from country to country, hire a local lawyer, one that was recommended from a good source. One of my clients in Central America paid US$95,000.00 for a condominium. What he did not learn until after the fact was the condominium was actually listed for 95,000.00 in the local currency, which made the property truly valued at US$49,000. Buyers beware.
I tell my clients not to get one [he is evidently talking about second passports]; however, it is a personal choice. First Antilles Offshore offers several services from second passports to Residency Packages. Check their site.
IBC & Bank Accounts
International Business Corporations: Setting up an IBC up is relatively easy, there are so many countries that offer a wide range of services. Take your time, determine the solvency of the bank and country, and understand the fees and structures.
When I opened my first IBC I never asked how long it took funds to clear, it turned out it was 30 days and caused me nothing but problems. Ask some very simple questions, things you would normally overlook. How long for funds to clear, cash and checks. What are the bank fees, some banks charge more then you would expect. How long does it take to wire transfer? The ATM card, what are the fees and the 24-hour spending limit.
Do not forget get a good accountant!
Some great companies assist people moving offshore. If you are going to Paris check out Parler Paris, a great site and service. Pick up some eBooks about your destination and visit your location before moving or buying property.
Three Keys to Disappearing:
Misinformation is the art of taking every piece of data existing about you, deviating them and destroying them beyond recognition. Keep in mind that your home phone number lists every call you have ever made over a period of time; your cellular phone as well. Your frequent flyer account with an airline lists every trip you logged. Call up those companies and change your contact information on file.
Disinformation is the art of leaving a bogus trail. If you are looking to disappear, make tons of phone calls to realtors all over the country. Make small purchases on your credit card, perhaps a cheap airline ticket or a bus ticket to Iowa. The key is to have the person shadowing you look in places you are not.
Reformation is the art of getting from where you are to where you want to be and leave no trails.
Good luck on your travels and ventures.
HAPPY ONE MILLION NAMES ON THE WATCHLIST!
The ACLU "celebrates" the now million-man (and woman) terrorist watch list. As ACLU Technology and Liberty Program Director Barry Steinhardt points out, a watch list with this many names is useless ... for catching terrorists, anyway. It is very useful for catching other people the feds might want to get their hands on, we imagine, but that is not the line of pablum being fed to the public.
Today [July 14] in Washington, D.C., the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Program (TLP) marked the addition of the 1,000,000th name to the FBI-run Terrorist Screening Center's terrorist watch list. One ... million ... names. OMG.
Highly suspicious characters such as Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) are on the watch list. So are the notorious Gary Smith and Robert Johnson. What? You have never heard of Gary Smith or Robert Johnson? They are so dangerous that countless of iterations of them are stopped at airports all the time, all because they have got really common names.
TLP Director Barry Steinhardt tells us why 1 million names on a watch list is as good as nothing on Daily Kos [see immediately below], and proposes some common-sense solutions. Chief among them is giving non-terrorists who are on the list a way of getting off the list. Right now, it takes an act of Congress to get your name off the list. Given how quickly and expeditiously Congress works, you can expect a wrong name to come off the list roughly around the same time that hell freezes over. (Congress did manage to get Nelson Mandela removed from the list.
So if Senator "E. Kennedy", an actual member of Congress, cannot get his name off the list, well, good luck to ya!
“Terrorist” Watchlist Hits One Million Names
The list is the perfect symbol for an administration whose strategy in fighting terrorism has always revolved around making everyone a suspect.
The "terrorist" watch list now has more than one million names. Do you feel safer now?
Since February we have been tracking the size of our government's list of ostensible terrorist suspects, which according to the government's own report (PDF) has been rising at a rate of 20,000 per month.
Today I appeared in a press conference at the National Press Club here in Washington to mark this latest threshold in the history of our government's so-called "War on Terror." With me were Caroline Fredrickson, head of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, and two watch list victims: Jim Robinson, a former assistant attorney general for the Civil Division at the Justice Department, who flies frequently and is often delayed for hours despite possessing a governmental security clearance; and Akif Rahman, an American citizen who has been repeatedly detained, shackled, separated from his family, and interrogated at the U.S.-Canada border when traveling for his business.
The first thing we have to do is reduce the size of this list. There cannot possibly be one million terrorists poised to attack us. If there were our cities would be ablaze. The president -- if not this president, then the next one -- needs to order the Terrorist Screening Center (the entity that maintains the list) to take everyone off this list except those for whom there is credible evidence of terrorist activities or ties. And they should be ordered to do it quickly -- within three months.
There is just no excuse for a terrorist watch list with one million names on it. And the million names dramatically understates the number of Americans actually affected by this hopelessly bloated folly. With common names like Robert Johnson on the list, exponentially more Americans are caught up in a Kafkaesque web of suspicion.
Think about it -- when the government announced it was setting up this list, did anyone picture such a thing? Might as well just put the whole population on the list and save on administrative expenses.
The second primary thing that needs to be done is for checks and balances to be imposed on this watch list system. If the government is going to use watch lists, there needs to be in place the same kinds of due process protections that American citizens expect any other time the government interferes with the rights and privileges that other members of society enjoy (such as the right to travel by air).
Congress needs to put into law -- you cannot trust bureaucracies to stick with "guidelines" or other weaker protections -- basic protections such as:
Today [July 14] we also announced the creation of an online form where victims of the watch list can report their experiences to us. We will collect those stories and use them in a variety of ways to advance our advocacy. We only share or use each story according to the permission that the submitter gives us, and stories can be submitted anonymously.
- A right to access and challenge data upon which listing is based;
- tight criteria for adding names to the lists;
- rigorous procedures for updating and cleansing names from the lists;
- and most of all, the right to a meaningful, participatory process by which we can challenge our inclusion on a watch list in an adversarial proceeding before a neutral arbiter.
In some ways, this million-person watch list is the perfect symbol for an administration whose strategy in fighting terrorism has always revolved around making everyone a suspect -- from data mining to ID cards to see-through body scanners. It is an approach based around trying to pick a one-in-a-billion terrorist out of the population, rather than doing the only thing that has ever really worked to stop attacks: following up competently on known terrorists and known leads and working outward from there to go directly to the terrorists.
MATT TAIBBI INTERVIEWED
Rolling Stone Political Reporter’s The Great Derangement attempts to reconcile our perception of the world with real events.
Matt Taibbi, political reporter for Rolling Stone and author of the newly-published The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story Of War, Politics, & Religion At The Twilight Of The American Empire, talks about apocalyptic Christain ministries, 9-11 "Truthers", and America's lost grip on reality. Of course nothing escapes unscathed. On the other hand, one detects a certain resiliency in the ridiculousness.
As the au courant acid-tongued political reporter for Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi cannot help but do his dirty work in the long shadows of the celebrated scribes that preceded him, like Hunter S. Thompson and P.J. O'Rourke. Taibbi does not sport a proud initial in his name, but his easy eloquence and ability to call bullsh*t by its name are helping him carve out his own small legacy in the unwinnable war against nonsense. In fact, his inability to curb his cussing has also found him a welcome home on Real Time With Bill Maher as a contributing reporter.
His latest book, The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story Of War, Politics, & Religion At The Twilight Of The American Empire attempts to reconcile our perception of the world with real events. By his own estimation, we are living in "a country that is no longer able to effectively digest the things that are happening to it." Whether he is infiltrating John Hagee's apocalyptic ministry in San Antonio or shaving his head to go unrecognized at 9-11 Truth Movement meetings, Taibbi's tireless pursuit of what has deranged us is often as troubling as it is hysterical. The A.V. Club recently spoke with Taibbi about Christian fundamentalism, blowing up buildings, patriotism, change, Joseph Heller, and the death of Tim Russert.
The A.V. Club: Let's just get one question out of the way, so you will be taken at your word for the rest of the interview: Do you love your country?
Matt Taibbi: [Laughs.] Yeah, sure. Of course. One loves one's country the way one loves a family member. And sometimes that family member does really embarrassing, sh*tty things, right? But you still love them.
Are you more of a cynic or a realist? Is there a difference?
I get the cynicism thing all the time, although I do not really know where that comes from, because I think I am actually the opposite of a cynic. I try to be outraged by things that other people are just very accepting of, as though they are normal and cannot be changed. A lot of what I write about is, "Hey, you know, this stuff is really awful, and it does not need to be, and that is why it is so offensive." Things should be better.
In The Great Derangement, you document your infiltration into John Hagee's Cornerstone Church and your incognito participation in 9-11 Truth Movement meetings. Have you gotten a reaction from either camp since the book's publication?
Oh yeah. Among the people that I was in church with, one of them actually saw me on television earlier this spring and called me up right afterward. So my cover was blown before the book even came out, which was kind of embarrassing. But I have not heard too much from that whole crew. Weirdly enough, the letters I have been getting from a lot of Christians -- not specifically from that church, but from other fundamentalist Christians -- have been strangely positive in a way that I really did not expect. A lot of people are very critical of Hagee's church, that it is deviating from the real message of Christ. I get a lot of letters of the "If only you had experienced Christ through our church" variety. There is a lot of that, but relatively little abuse of the sort that you would have expected. The Truthers, on the other hand ... [Laughs.] I think they are probably the most self-Googling sliver of humanity on the planet. The instant you write anything about them, your e-mail is flooded with letters. I have not gotten a single positive reaction from anybody who iss a self-described Truther
You would think a movement devoted to seeking truth would encourage debate as a way to arrive at the truth, rather than trying to suppress whatever does not already align with their own views.
Absolutely. I make this point with Truthers all the time, that the whole direction of everything they do is the opposite of what finding out the truth is. They approach the subject matter in much the same way a defense attorney does. A defense attorney takes a case and he sees six pieces of evidence that are going to convict his client, and he sets out to destroy those six pieces of evidence, irrelevant to the actual truth of the situation. That is not to denigrate defense attorneys, but that is what they do.
It is exactly the same thing that Truthers do. They just take the 9-11 Commission Report piece by piece, and they try to break down links in that evidentiary chain that compose the official story, but they never really try to find out what happened. They are just trying to convince you that the official story could not possibly be true. For instance, the stuff about Hani Hanjour -- the hijacker who reportedly made that maneuver into the Pentagon. They are really hopped up about the fact that he was a bad pilot and could not have made that sophisticated maneuver. But they make absolutely no effort to tell you what actually did happen. They are like, "Oh, it could have been a remote-controlled plane." Offhandedly, they will say that. [Laughs.] Like that is a very simple thing. It's really weird.
The whole "smoking gun" of the Truth Movement seems to revolve around the collapse of Building 7, near the Twin Towers. There is this matter-of-fact assertion that the government obviously blew it up.
I love when you ask them, "Okay, so let's just say for instance that it was not collapsed by the fire. Why would you demolish Building 7? What would be the propaganda purpose of doing that?" They are like, "Oh, you know, they are hiding the evidence." I am like, "They need to blow up a whole building to hide the evidence?" It is just crazy. But whatever. I mean, once you jump on board that train, you are on it for life. [Laughs.]
This "great derangement," as you have coined it, do you think it is unique to these times? Conspiracy theories and apocalyptic religious dogma have been around in various forms for a very long time. What is different about it now?
America has always had a real passion for lunatic movements. That is one of the things we are probably known for around the world, I would imagine. I think what is different about it now is that we had a relatively cohesive national society for a while. For a giant industrial country, we had a situation where pretty much everybody agreed on the same sets of facts when they talked about the news, and they believed in the media. When somebody reported something, they generally accepted that it was true. For a long time, I think that was the case in this country.
But recently, because of a bunch of things -- there was a general collapse in faith of the mainstream news media, because of Jayson Blair. And the 2000 election was a situation where if you were on the Bush side, you believed X set of facts, and if you were on the Democratic side, you believed Y set of facts. The wound was never healed. You got a situation where people decided to reality-shop and search for their own sets of facts at their own news sources, and they just kind of stopped coming to this common meeting-place where we all had the same commonly accepted set of facts. And because of the Internet, which is a new phenomenon, people can do that more than ever before. You can have somebody living next door to you and you can live in a completely different world from that person, which is definitely something we have never experienced before. So I think just because of the media landscape and the way we get our information now, we are more atomized and isolated from each other than ever before.
The Internet has fed a lot of the suspicion people have for "mainstream media," but does the Internet suffer from its own distortions? Are there not a lot of so-called "news" sites that manufacture their own version of events to play on fears and serve their own needs just as much as the established media?
Yeah, sure. It is just for different reasons. Obviously the commercial news media tries to get you worked up and terrified so you will buy products that they are advertising. I think the Internet is a completely different phenomenon. When you have movements like this that are preying on fears, or your misconceptions, they are doing it basically just to bolster their ranks and to self-aggrandize their movement objectives. It is not for commercial reasons, which is maybe a positive. It is a very similar phenomenon, it is just that it is for different reasons.
In the book, you write about the negotiations to pass the Gasoline For America's Security Act in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which ends up having little to do with security, affordable gasoline, or the hurricane. Is a candidate like Barack Obama spreading false hope that he is going to be able to just march into town and sweep away all this nonsense that goes on in Congress?
This is an institutional problem. It is not a problem of the individual people occupying the spots in government. The problem that we have with Congress is just the way it is set up. Once you get elected, you have to start running for reelection right away, especially in the House. There is just no way to keep your seat without raising tons of money constantly. And because of this constant pressure to raise money, these guys cannot afford not to make a lot of legislative decisions based upon what is going to help them get campaign donations. The only guys who can afford to not do that are the people who have enormous name recognition and goodwill in their states for some other reason. Somebody like Bernie Saunders, for instance, who knows everybody in Vermont personally. [Laughs.] If you are not one of those people yet, you have to do this all the time.
So when something like that refinery bill comes up, well, if you are Joe Barton [R-Texas] or Lincoln Diaz-Balart [R-Florida] or any of these guys, and you know you are going to get gigantic campaign contributions from Exxon-Mobil and all the different companies that have power plants and are trying to reduce their obligations to the Clean Air Act, you are going be strongly tempted to vote "yes" for something like this, no matter how stupid and evil it is, just because that is what you have to do to stay in office.
They have tried to chip away at the underlying reasons why this is all in place, with campaign finance reform and reform of the lobbying system and earmarking. But every time they do, the system just kind of metamorphoses and they find a way around it. They pulled off an earmark reform act two years ago, and the first thing that happened was the amount of money spent on earmarks went up that year. The amount of earmarks went from under 3,000 to over 11,000. So you know, every time they try to fix this problem, it just gets worse. It is really kind of sad.
As a journalist, do you wonder why you bother covering some stories, since you know in the end it will not change anything?
I think you do these stories because you want people to know about it. There are a lot of people who are actually in Congress who are very, very frustrated -- people who work there and are frustrated that people do not know this is the way it all goes on there. They want to get the word out, but the problem is that Congress is boring. It is just hard to communicate and ergo, there is almost nobody covering Congress. I was at the 2007 Omnibus Appropriations Bill passage, and like eight of the 11 appropriations bills were being passed, almost $2 trillion being spent, and I was the only reporter in the gallery. [Laughs.] It shows you something. I am out on the campaign trail and you have thousands of people following the candidates around, listening to them spew this idiotic bullshit all the time, but when we actually spend the money, when the actual business of government happens, nobody is watching because it is just too f***ing boring.
Any time you use the words "omnibus" and "appropriations" in the same sentence, people will probably zone out for a second.
Yeah, exactly. It is so longwinded and awful-sounding, nobody will listen to it.
Everyone wants to be the "change" candidate. Obama seems to have at least won exclusive use of the slogan for now. But will this presidential election change anything?
Actually, this is sort of going to be the subject of my next book: how incredibly pointless presidential elections are, and how we all get worked up about them for two whole years, and then as soon as they are over, we go back to being just as fucked as we were before. There was a Joseph Heller play called We Bombed In New Haven -- you know, the guy who wrote Catch-22 -- and there is this scene in it where one general says to another, "We're gonna bomb that city off the map." And the other guy says, "Why don't we just bomb the map?"
It is the same thing with this. Instead of actually effecting change, we just turn change into a T-shirt. Buy the T-shirt, you know? It is a shortcut to actually having it: We just say we have it, and that is just as satisfying. If you go back to 1992, Bill Clinton's campaign slogan was "A change for America's future." Change was the slogan then, too. It is always the slogan. That is permanently part of our political landscape. Until we have learned to distinguish between bombing the city and bombing the map, we are going to have that problem.
The subtitle of your book refers to "the twilight of the American empire." Are we really at the twilight of this empire?
I actually did not write the subtitle. [Laughs.] But I will cop to it. It is my book. There are certainly signs of us being on the downside of our world influence. Having lived in a collapsed empire before -- I lived in Russia right after the Soviet Union collapsed -- you can see a lot of the classic signs of an empire that is on its way out.
If you look back in history, as the barbarians were invading the gates of Rome, people were consulting fortunetellers and worrying about the end of the world and all sorts of other apocalyptic notions. When the tsars were finally overthrown, they were all reading tarot cards even as the revolutionaries were banging at the gates. With America, it is kind of the same thing. We get bombed by an Islamic terrorist, and half of the country thinks it is because we are supporting gay marriage, and the other half thinks it is because we did it to ourselves. This is a symptom of a country that is no longer able to effectively digest the things that are happening to it.
On the other hand, America is still a very, very strong country in so many ways. Compared to other places in the world, my God, it would really only take incremental improvements across the board for us to be as healthy as a country can possibly be. We have a very powerful economy, we have a functioning court system, elections that are more or less honest. So I do not think we are that far off from reversing the problem, it is just that there are signs of us taking a nosedive.
On the occasion of every presidential election, we are told, "This is going to be the really important one, the historic one." Is it this time, for real?
Well, it is certainly a very important election, for a lot of reasons. I think we are in a situation now where the Bush people have done so much damage to so many different aspects of our society that this is an important election just in that respect. We cannot continue along those roads. As regards to the themes in this book, Bush in particular has done a lot of damage to our ability to have a national discussion about things, because they have so frequently insisted upon having their own reality when it suited them. Remember that famous quote, "We're in the reality-making business," from one of his aides? When it suited them, they just changed the facts and told their supporters "Stick with us," and "We want you to subscribe to this faith-based politics where what we say is true because we say it is." That is an enormously damaging way of operating the White House. You really need to have appeal and try to talk to the entire country, and not just your constituents.
I think Barack Obama -- as little faith as I have in his ability to actually change the system -- he does at least have the opportunity to repair that aspect of things, and to talk to the whole country, and bring us back to reality. That would be a huge step. I think John McCain is a guy who has got his own psychological problems that would prompt him, for instance, to continue this war under very cloudy, illogical circumstances, and that would be very destructive. So yeah, I think it would be meaningful, I just do not think it is going to affect a whole lot of systemic change if Obama gets elected.
The other night, Larry King was talking about the election with Joy Behar from The View ...
[Laughs.] There's two intellectual giants debating politics.
Behar was talking about some US Magazine cover where they explore Michelle Obama's relationship with her husband. It is even called something like "Why Barack Loves Her." And Behar was saying, "Well, not everyone reads The New York Times or watches the news, so this might be the only way they get to know about the Obamas." Are we that hopeless?
Oh, man. That is terrifying. I am out there on the campaign trail all the time talking to people who are going to vote in this election. I was talking to this woman in Louisiana last week, and she is standing at a McCain rally, she is actually there supporting the candidate in person, and I say, "What is it about Barack Obama that you don't like?" She turns to her friend and says, "What was that thing about his wife? That anti-American thing?" The other one says, "I don't know. Which thing do you mean?" And she's like, "That thing, where she's anti-American." And the other one is like, "Oh, I don't know. I don't know what you mean." And so she says to me, "Well, I heard this thing about her being anti-American." That was as specific as she could be about why she did not like Barack Obama, because she heard a thing somewhere about his wife. People are voting on the basis of sh*t like that. [Laughs.] How we are not back in the Stone Age already with this situation, the way it is going, is beyond me.
As a journalist, what did you make of the coverage of Tim Russert's death? Are we at the point now where certain journalists are to be memorialized like statesmen?
I have already gotten in trouble for something like this before the Pope died. [Taibbi wrote an article for NY Press in 2005, "The 52 Funniest Things About The Upcoming Death Of The Pope."] I mean, obviously he is the Pope, he is not Tim Russert, so it is not as ridiculous -- but you knew that there was going to be that eight consecutive days of "Oh my God. This person that we cannot possibly live without has died!" And, "He is the greatest person who has ever lived on the entire face of the earth!"
There is something about the way our media is constructed that it has an instinct and an appetite for that kind of bullsh*t that just goes beyond all reason. I do not know what it is, but if you watch ESPN, for instance, and you watch anybody talk about any sports team, it is like they jump at any chance to jack off any athlete they can, because the thing that they do best on TV is just worship people or things. Celebrating the dead is the schlockiest form of worship, and they have a limitless appetite for it. I just cannot figure it out. I mean, Tim Russert, he was a fat guy from Buffalo who did his job okay. I do not have anything against him. But people die! That is part of what your life is all about. I don't know. It is really weird sh*t. It is certainly repugnant. But I cannot imagine that it is going to end anytime soon. I think it is probably only going to get worse.
Paul Craig Roberts, who was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, continues his vocal and courageous defense of the rule of law. Here he points out the the whole idea of people in any kind of governing capacity being bound by constraints has deteriorated. Laws are often simply ignored as if they did not exist. It starts with the Bush administration and the U.S. Constitution, but filters down to the most mundane and local of exercises in power.
I recently read that Brigitte Bardot, now in her 70s, has been arrested as a hate criminal for complaining that Muslims in France slaughter sheep without first stunning them. The famous actress is known for her sympathy with animals, but the French government preferred to interpret her remarks as hatred for Muslims. Prosecutor Anne de Fontetts promised to throw the book at Bardot.
There are many incongruities here. The French are persecuting one of their own for taking exception to the practices of an alien culture. But then, perhaps this is just being broad-minded. What really jumps out is, if Bardot's animal rights position makes her a hate criminal, what does French President Nicholas Sarkozy's foreign policy position make him?
According to Information Clearing House's running tally as of July 12, 1,236,604 Iraqis have been slaughtered as a result of the Sarkozy-supported U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. If Bardot is a hate criminal under French law for complaining about how Muslims prepare their mutton, why is President Sarkozy not a hate criminal for supporting an American policy that has resulted in the deaths of 1,236,604 Muslims and the displacement of 4 million Iraqis?
Such incongruities are everywhere. It is as if people are no longer capable of thought.
Last week [second week in July] the U.S. Congress passed an ex post facto law that legalized the illegal behavior of telecommunication companies that enabled the Bush Regime to violate U.S. law and to spy on Americans without warrants. Retroactive laws are unconstitutional. But, alas, the U.S. Constitution does not make campaign contributions, and telecommunication companies do.
The Bush Regime claimed that its illegal behavior, which requires an unconstitutional retroactive law to protect telecommunication companies and President Bush from being held accountable, is necessary to protect us. But as our Founding Fathers and every intelligent patriotic person since has patiently explained to the American public, it is the Constitution that protects us. No safety can be found by fleeing the Constitution. Without the Constitution we have no protection. We simply stand naked before unbridled government power.
That is pretty much how we stand now after 7.5 years of the Bush Regime. Electing a Democratic Congress in 2006 did not make any difference. Indeed, it was a Democratic majority Congress that last week gave Bush his unconstitutional ex post facto law.
As Larry Stratton and I point out in the new edition of The Tyranny of Good Intentions, the U.S. Constitution has no friends. The Democrats do not like the Second Amendment (another incongruity in the face of the right-wing police state that Bush has created), and the Brownshirt Republicans regard the rest of our civil liberties as coddling devices for criminals and terrorists.s
Across the political spectrum, Americans are happy to shred the Constitution in behalf of some agenda or the other. The government is happy to oblige, because shredding the Constitution removes constraints on the government's power.
It has fallen to the private, member-supported organization known as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to challenge the retroactive law that destroys the privacy rights granted to U.S. citizens by the Constitution. The ACLU is regarded by conservatives as a Jewish conspiracy to destroy Christianity, and the right-wing idiots on Fox "News" and talk radio will denounce the ACLU for wanting to empower terrorists.
Conservatives will repeat endlessly that Americans who are doing nothing wrong have nothing to fear. If this argument held any water, there would have been no point in the Founding Fathers writing the Constitution.
The position of the U.S. Government is that the rights granted Americans by the Constitution facilitate terrorism. To be safe from terrorists, the argument goes, we must allow the government to take liberties with the Constitution. This argument gives government the power to set aside the Constitution, and, thus, enables tyranny. As Milton Friedman and many others taught us, rules are the essence of freedom, and discretionary power is the essence of tyranny.
Bush's "war on terror," essentially a hoax, has transformed the United States into a lawless nation. We are not lawless in the sense of an absence of laws. We are lawless in the sense that despite a surfeit of laws, we no longer have the rule of law.
If the President does not like an existing law, he ignores it. If the President does not like new laws passed by Congress, instead of vetoing them he prepares a "signing statement," which says that he will determine what the law means.
This lawlessness has spread from the top of the federal government down to local governments and community associations. Recently the state of Georgia passed a law that reaffirmed that anyone with a carry permit was entitled to have their concealed weapon when dropping off or picking up passengers at the Atlanta airport. The Atlanta city government said it would not obey the state law and would arrest anyone, including the state legislator who sponsored the legislation, who carried a permitted weapon onto airport property.
A community in which I live has by-laws that forbid members of the board of the property owners association from serving as general manager of the designated community. This did not prevent the board from appointing one of their own the general manager. The POA board regards the by-laws which govern it as merely words without force.
Just like Bush regards the U.S. Constitution.
OPERA 9.5 BROWSER A GOOD ALTERNATIVE TO INTERNET EXPLORER AND FIREFOX
The new version of Opera is faster, has better standards support, and includes lots of unique browsing helpers, but some sites still do not play well on the Opera stage.
We have been a steady user of the Opera browser since its early version 3.x days, circa late 1997. Its lean and mean quality instantly attracted us back then, and until Firefox came along it also benefitted from lack of decent competition (IE and the late Netscape Navigator). It also had configuration options we ultimately came to view as highly desirable. Its transparent treatment of cached files was very valuable in the pre-broadband days, and is still far from worthless.
Having said this, we have usually found post-3.x versions disappointing in one way or another, if only because 3.x set such a high standard for speed. (To wit: Opera 3.60 opened only slightly more slowly on our ancient 200 MHz CPU machine than 9.2 does on a dual-core 2 Ghz PC.) Versions 4 and 5 were too inferior to supplant version 3 on our machine, even when the later started to become unreliable for rendering more complicated sites. Version 6 was a definite improvement, but was less stable than we liked. Versions 7 through 9.2x were fine, and blazed new frontiers in customizability, but still felt ponderous from our biased perspective.
The upshot was that we found ourselves using Firefox-derivative K-Meleon more frequently in the last year, thanks to its efficiency and ability to import Opera bookmarks, despite our sorely missing some of Opera's features. Now with the release of Opera 9.5 (now updated to 9.51), we are very happy to revert to Opera as our default browser. Most importantly, it seems far more sprightly than the last of the previous in the 9.x series (9.27), while providing the features and site rendering capacities (with a few exceptions, as noted below) required of a modern browser. Here is a review of version 9.5 courtesy of good, old PC Magazine. The review, among other things, more or less confirms that we did not construct that feeling of sprightliness out of thin air. But it looks like the competition from the newest version of Firefox, version 3, is stiff indeed.
Opera is hoping to steal some of Firefox's thunder, with a launch timed to fall just before the open-source darling's version 3 unveiling [which has now happened]. Like the new Firefox, Opera 9.5 has revamped its address bar, simplified its download dialog, improved content blocking, sped up performance, and tightened memory use. Its updated interface gives the browser a modern, 3D obsidian look.
Personally, we are not crazy about this default look, although it has its charms. Fortunately, it is a simple matter to change the browser's "skin". For all of Internet Explorer's faults, we are fond of the old IE6 default appearance. An Opera skin approximating that appearance can be found on this page. Go to the "IE6XP" skin listing (it is no longer maintained, but that does not matter), download it, and it will then be available as a skin choice (e.g, via Tools/Appearance/Skin).
You will also find some unique new features, like the ability to sync your bookmarks among PCs using its hosted service. Although I found a few sites that did not fully support it, and occasionally ran into a stability issue, Opera's problems are minor. With built-in email, chat, newsreader, and even BitTorrent clients, Opera is a one-stop Internet shop, and it is faster, safer, and more compatible than ever.
Not to be outdone by the new standout feature in Firefox 3 -- a rethought address bar (which Mozilla insiders call the Awesome Bar) -- Opera has introduced Quick Find. In the new Firefox address bar, when you start typing characters, a drop-down menu presents suggestions of sites you may be looking for, based on your browsing history and bookmarks. Quick Find takes this a step further, basing results on page content as well as history. The feature does a pretty good job of predicting the sites I want, but I still prefer the Firefox implementation, because it can take tagging into account and will even take you directly to the page you want. Say you type the phrase "New York Times": Mozilla's browser takes you directly to the paper's site. Opera, like other browsers, takes you to a search results page for your terms. There is no "gee-whiz" factor. And with Firefox, you have saved a mouse click.
One of Opera's major new features is Opera Link. This lets you sync your bookmarks, personal link toolbar, speed dial entries, and notes among machines via the Internet. Once you sign up for an Opera account and provide an email address, you can access your links, Speed Dial entries, and so on not just from Opera browsers on other PCs, but also from Opera Mobile and Opera Mini mobile browsers. You can even get to your links from other browsers besides Opera. So, for example, if you log in to Opera Link in Internet Explorer, you will have access to the bookmarks and even a Web-based Speed Dial page. Opera Link is unique among browsers and a terrific idea. Eventually, the company plans to extend Opera Link's capabilities so that you can transfer passwords and other settings to your other browsing hardware.
I should note that Opera is much more than just a browser. It integrates an e-mail client, an IRC chat client, a newsgroup reader, and an RSS reader (all of which basically have an RSS-reader–style interface). You access these apps through the side panel, and when a new message arrives, a small window discreetly rises in the lower right-hand corner of your screen. And perhaps most noteworthy, Opera can act as a BitTorrent client -- a feature no other browser offers. The search bar even has a BitTorrent search option.
We have paid scant attention to these non-browser features of Opera over the years, for historical useage and laziness reasons, and also a -- somewhat fuddy-duddy -- idea that we would like to have separate functions handled by separate programs.
Opera even has a social-networking element: Sign up for an account and you can add friends, send messages and updates, and see other Opera users' pictures and profiles. You can also blog, share photos, and log into discussion groups directly from within the browser. A lot of the community appears to be in Norway , where the company is based, but English is pretty common.
Despite its sophistication, Opera still lags behind in a few areas. For example, Firefox 3's managers for passwords and, especially, downloads give it an edge. Its password manager no longer pops up a dialog interrupting your browsing, and its download manager now includes pause, resume, and search. And Opera still has no one-click bookmarking like that of Internet Explorer with its +star and Firefox with its star. You can, however, add a star button from the menu by selecting View | Toolbars | Customize | Buttons, which gets you close. Nonetheless, bookmarking in Opera is still comparatively primitive, requiring you to open a new tab or window and not supporting drag-and-drop from within the Bookmark drop-down menu. You also cannot tag pages with relevant terms as you can in Firefox 3. In addition, I encountered some stability issues. ...
Opera was the first browser to offer tabs for multiple browsing windows, and I have long considered its implementation one of the best. The very clear default "New Tab" button has been redesigned as a simple plus sign to the right of tabs. Hovering your mouse pointer over a tab drops down a thumbnail preview of the site -- a unique bonus. Scrolling through tabs is remarkably easy. You simply use the mouse wheel while holding down the right mouse button or Ctrl-Tab.
Opera's multifunction sidebar -- which lets you switch between panels for bookmarks, history, downloads, and more -- has long been industry-leading, and that has not changed. I still prefer it to the one in Firefox 3, which is limited by comparison. The designers have changed the way you access the sidebar, replacing the subtle arrow on the left-hand edge of the browser with a wrench button at the top left of the tabs. For users just coming to the browser, this change should make getting to the sidebar more intuitive. In addition to sidebar panels for bookmarks and history, you can also have panels for widgets (mini applications that run outside the browser), mail, contacts, notes, transfers, IRC chat, and page info. You can activate an icon button for each along the left, and you can close the main sidebar panel, leaving only the buttons for quick access to their panels.
All of these behaviors and options are customizeable, once you are comfortable with how the browser operates. Besides the aforementioned skins, you can configure to your liking all the toolbars (with a few annoying constraints) and, perhaps more importantly in the longrun, all the browser's menus -- from the standard one running along the browser window's top to all the right-click and dropdown menus that crop up in various contexts. The menu configuration is done via an INI type file -- the one that comes with the initial installation is "standard_menu.ini" in the "defaults" subdirectory. It must be said that the menu INI file does not come coherently organized out of the box (for the expenditure of a couple of man hours, Opera could fix that) and the file contains no helpful comments, but ultimately it takes more patience than talent to figure it out.
Speed Dial -- a grid of links -- is another distinguishing feature in recent versions of Opera and can be a great convenience for getting to frequently used sites. I wish you could add a page while visiting it (say, by using a right-click option, rather than having to go to the Speed Dial page itself and clicking on an entry), but it is still better than the Firefox extensions that mimic it, because it suggests frequently visited pages when you go to add Speed Dial entries.
To make the browser easier to use, I recommend a visit to the View | Toolbars | Customize | Buttons, dialog. You will find very useful tools there that you may want as regular members of the browser interface. But two default buttons are unique: Fast Forward and Rewind predict the next logical page on the site and return you to its first page, respectively.
Another nicety is Paste-and-Go. When you right-click in the address or search bar to paste something you have copied, this small but much-loved feature saves you the extra Enter press (on the keyboard, press Ctrl-B instead of Ctrl-V to paste and go). I cannot understand why all browsers do not have this option. On the other hand, I do wish Opera had a Go button for these entry boxes. Sometimes I just prefer clicking the mouse to hitting Enter.
Opera has long been a pioneer of mouse gestures, which speed some operations. For example, you can maximize a tab by holding the right button and sweeping your mouse up and right. Other shortcuts include Ctrl-Z -- which does what it does in other applications, reopening the last page you closed -- and a small icon at the bottom of the browser that lets you turn off images with one click. This button also lets you display cached images only, which you might do if your connection were slow. I just wish you could also turn off Flash with one click to get rid of annoying ads.
Like Firefox 3, Opera not only protects against phishing sites, but through its partnership with security experts Haute Secure it has added protection against malware-distributing sites as well. In my testing, Opera 9.5's Fraud Protection was able to successfully block a suspected phishing site I found on phishtank.com. Internet Explorer and Firefox's protection was equally successful, but Safari blithely displayed the fake financial page. Opera also lets you know how secure a secure connection is: If the site uses SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), the address bar displays a lock and lets you know whether there are problems with the site. A site with Extended Validation SS should display a green background behind the lock. Though this worked for PayPal (an EV site) in IE and Firefox 3, PayPal displayed with only a yellow background in Opera, meaning it was secure, but not Extended, even though PayPal in fact uses EV.
If you would like to check on the validity of any site, the way you can in Firefox by clicking on the site's favicon, you have to add the padlock icon to your toolbar. This icon is different, and larger than the one that appears for SSL sites in the address bar. It lets you check on any site's SSL status and certificates. I would prefer this icon to be part of the default toolbar set. Other security options include the ability to set a Master password and support for TLS, as well as SSL 3 encryption. Opera has a sterling security track record, and the fact that it is not as tempting a target as the more high-profile browsers does not hurt -- the old "security by obscurity" dodge.
We have also been impressed with Firefox 3's rendering speed.
In another rendering-speed challenge, I used QuirksMode.org's DOM 1, which measures the time the browser needs to create a large table using W3C DOM methods. Opera came out on top, taking an average of 55 milliseconds over 10 runs, while Firefox 3 took 245 milliseconds and IE took 1,352 milliseconds.
How long a browser takes to start up is an important measure of performance. I timed Opera starting up cold -- after a reboot, in other words -- and warm, after it had already been run once. It did remarkably well, taking an average of only 2.7 seconds cold, handily beating Firefox 3's ponderous 12.6, Internet Explorer's 5 seconds, and its own previous version's 5.4.
Memory use is another factor that affects how smoothly your PC will perform when you are running a browser. I checked memory usage under Vista, which reports the private working set (the actual memory the app is using), by loading the same 10 media-rich Web pages at once on each browser. Opera required a frugal 88MB, but Firefox 3 has really tightened up in this area, taking only 65MB. Both, however, trounce Internet Explorer, which hogged 210MB.
Under objective testing of support for Web standards, Opera wins. On the Web Standards Organization's Acid3 Browser standards test, it does better than any other released browser, earning a score of 83, compared with Firefox 3's 71, Safari 3.1's 75, and Internet Explorer's paltry 12. Opera still is not officially supported by some major sites, such as Citibank's, but that site actually works when you hit Continue. And other demanding sites, such as Zoho and the new My Yahoo! presented no problems. Picasa Web Albums displays a message at the top saying that your browser is not fully supported, and indeed you get only a simplified version of that site's slideshows compared with what you get in Firefox or Internet Explorer.
For developers, Opera boasts improved support for Scalable Vector Graphics [SVG] and many HTML 5 tags. The company is also coming out with Dragonfly, a developer tool for building apps in both the Opera desktop browser and the mobile phone versions.
Dragonfly is still is the alpha stage of development. The concept sounds similar to the Firefox extention Firebug. And speaking of which, one area where Opera clearly lags Firefox is in the extendability domain. Opera "widgets" are little addons that run independently from the browser interface. Available widgets include calculators, a little artists "sketchbook" bitmap editor, some basic HTML editors, and a toolbar that accesses Google's panapoly of services. Cute stuff, and sometimes useful. But it is pretty amateurish when compared to the sophisticated extentions available for Firefox.
Excellent speed, usability, and leading standards support have always been Opera's strong suits. And if you love the idea of an all-in-one communicator, the more-than-a-browser's email, RSS, chat, and even BitTorrent clients will be to your liking. There is still the occasional site that causes funky behavior, and the large sites that do not officially support Opera. Still, all this could change with Internet Explorer 8's commitment to open Web standards. If that really happens, then Opera's second-class citizenship may be upgraded, making it a true contender and removing a major barrier to using it.
Judging from the preview releases of the imminent Firefox 3, Opera has fallen behind in some performance measures and features (the password manager, download manager, and address bar's predictive browsing). Couple that with Firefox's infinite tweakability via extensions and it is hard to make a case for wrenching away its Editors' Choice -- but stay tuned for our review of the Firefox 3 final release to see which browser gets the crown.
We will post the PC Mag review of Firefox 3 next week. Meanwhile, here is the link.
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