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Leaked Records Reveal Offshore Holdings of China’s Elite

January 22, 2014 Comments off

Leaked Records Reveal Offshore Holdings of China’s Elite
Source: Center for Public Integrity (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists)

Close relatives of China’s top leaders have held secretive offshore companies in tax havens that helped shroud the Communist elite’s wealth, a leaked cache of documents reveals.

The confidential files include details of a real estate company co-owned by current President Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law and British Virgin Islands companies set up by former Premier Wen Jiabao’s son and also by his son-in-law.

Nearly 22,000 offshore clients with addresses in mainland China and Hong Kong appear in the files obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Among them are some of China’s most powerful men and women — including at least 15 of China’s richest, members of the National People’s Congress and executives from state-owned companies entangled in corruption scandals.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, UBS and other Western banks and accounting firms play a key role as middlemen in helping Chinese clients set up trusts and companies in the British Virgin Islands, Samoa and other offshore centers usually associated with hidden wealth, the records show. For instance, Swiss financial giant Credit Suisse helped Wen Jiabao’s son create his BVI company while his father was leading the country.

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By the numbers: a 2013 money-in-politics index

December 28, 2013 Comments off

By the numbers: a 2013 money-in-politics index
Source: Center for Public Integrity

Number of bills passed by Congress this year that have been signed into law: 58

Number of bills passed in 1948, the year President Harry Truman* assailed the “Do-Nothing Congress”: 511

Number of minutes Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, spent reading Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” during a 21-hour talk-a-thon in September: 5 ½

Number of hours per day the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recommends embattled freshmen spend fundraising: 4

Amount of campaign cash all members of Congress have reported raising so far in 2013: $403,952,012

Corruption risk huge for state governments

March 19, 2012 Comments off

Corruption risk huge for state governmentsSource: Center for Public Integrity

Open records laws with hundreds of exemptions. Budget decisions made behind closed doors. Ethics panels that haven’t met in years.

Those are among the examples of corruption risk we found in the State Integrity Investigation, an unprecedented examination of America’s state capitals. The bottom line? Not a single state earned an A grade in the year-long investigation. Half the states earned D’s or F’s. Find out what your state is doing right and wrong.

Click on a state to see its corruption risk report.

Who bankrolls the Super Congress?

August 26, 2011 Comments off

Who bankrolls the Super Congress?
Source: Center for Public Integrity

The Super Congress has its work cut out: Twelve lawmakers have been tapped to identify more than $1 trillion in spending cuts in an autumn marathon never before seen in Washington.

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas will co-chair the committee, with a backup chorus of lawmakers representing the full political spectrum.

Every member of the Super Congress comes with a history of political patrons and connections with special interests. The Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News has produced an in-depth look at their involvement with the gears that make Washington work, often to the consternation of the public and government watchdogs.

The committee must come up with $1.5 trillion or more in budget savings over the coming decade, enough to match increases in the government’s ability to borrow enough money to pay its bills through the beginning of 2013. It requires a bipartisan majority of at least seven of the committee’s 12 members to recommend legislation to be presented to the whole Congress for an up-or-down vote by Dec. 23. The select panel has until the day before Thanksgiving to complete its deliberations.

There are powerful incentives for the Super Congress to reach agreement. Perhaps most important, if it fails to produce deficit savings of at least $1.2 trillion, or if the House or Senate votes down its recommendations, severe across-the-board spending cuts would trigger automatically. Additional pressure comes from the Standard & Poor’s downgrading of the U.S. government’s credit rating.

As with any group of senators and representatives, the members of the Super Congress bring to the table their own set of political activities. These include PAC contributions from special interests; the revolving door of staff in and out of the private sector; the lawmakers’ own PACs that dole out donations to favored people running for office. Click on the names below for individual profiles.

A more likely nuclear nightmare

May 14, 2011 Comments off

A more likely nuclear nightmare; Despite tsunami and earthquakes, nuclear power’s more probable threat — recurring fires — goes unchecked
Source: Center for Public Integrity

The safety plan for any nuclear power plant reads like a doomsday book. Earthquakes, floods, airplane crashes, mass evacuations, terrorist attacks, hurricanes, tornadoes — all are disaster scenarios deemed a risk to reactor safety. The most likely threat, however, involves none of these headline cataclysms.

Fires regularly occur at the 104 U.S. nuclear plants nearly 10 times a year on average. About half the accidents that threaten reactor cores begin with fires that can start from a short circuit in an electric cable, a spark that ignites the oil in a pump, or an explosion in a transformer. Even a small fire could trigger a chain of events that threatens a meltdown, and some have come close.

Just a year ago, a South Carolina nuclear plant suffered two fires in a single day — ironically on the 31st anniversary of the nation’s worst nuclear accident at Three Mile Island . The seven-hour crisis escaped much national notice even though it left half the plant without adequate power or a reliable supply of cooling water for its reactors, a situation worsened by workers’ unfamiliarity with the proper safety response.

Despite growing concerns, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission hardly ever issues serious penalties for fires, preferring instead for voluntary compliance and slaps on the wrist, a review by iWatch News found. The South Carolina plant, for instance, received low-level written citations that carried no penalty after the March 2010 fires.

‘Green’ biomass isn’t always so clean

May 6, 2011 Comments off

‘Green’ biomass isn’t always so clean
Source: Center for Public Integrity

Just 12 miles apart in the belly of California, a pair of 12.5 megawatt power plants fouled the air with a toxic brew of pollutants — nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, ammonia and particulate matter. They released thick plumes and visible dust. They failed to install proper monitoring equipment, and failed to file reports on their emissions.

Another instance of coal plants polluting the environment?

Not quite. These are biomass power plants, part of the so-called green wave of the future.

Pitched as a smarter, environmentally-friendly way to produce power, the electricity generating stations are spreading nationwide, spurred by hundreds of millions in stimulus dollars and big muscle support from members of Congress and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Generating electricity by burning trees, construction debris, poultry litter and agricultural mass has become a key element in a larger push to develop sources of alternative energy, and popular because it’s been around for decades and is reliable.

Yet green energy is not always so green.

ATF let hundreds of U.S. weapons fall into hands of suspected Mexican gunrunners

March 15, 2011 Comments off

ATF let hundreds of U.S. weapons fall into hands of suspected Mexican gunrunners
Source: Center for Public Integrity

Hoping to score a major prosecution of Mexican drug lords, federal prosecutors and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives permitted hundreds of guns to be purchased and retained by suspected straw buyers with the expectation they might cross the border and even be used in crimes while the case was being built, according to documents and interviews.

The decision — part of a Phoenix-based operation code named “Fast and Furious” — was met by strong objections from some front-line agents who feared they were allowing weapons like AK-47s to “walk” into the hands of drug lords and gun runners, internal agency memos show. Indeed, scores of the weapons came back quickly traced to criminal activity.

One of those front-line agents who objected, John Dodson, 39, told the Center for Public Integrity that these guns “are going to be turning up in crimes on both sides of the border for decades.” Dodson said in an interview that “with the number of guns we let walk, we’ll never know how many people were killed, raped, robbed … there is nothing we can do to round up those guns. They are gone.”

Regulatory Flaws, Repeated Violations Put Oil Refinery Workers at Risk

March 4, 2011 Comments off

Regulatory Flaws, Repeated Violations Put Oil Refinery Workers at Risk
Source: Center for Public Integrity

While public and government attention focuses on singularly catastrophic events, such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, problems quietly fester at the factories that refine the nation’s fuels — labyrinthine complexes full of hazardous chemicals that are plagued by often-preventable accidents, putting workers at risk and endangering nearby communities.

Documents reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity, along with interviews of top safety officials and refining industry insiders, confirm an array of contributing factors ranging from haphazard enforcement to resistance from a politically influential industry. An easily manipulated regulatory system allows companies to challenge citations for years and postpone mandated fixes. Despite calls for change, some refineries still run equipment to failure rather than maintaining it.

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