Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

If you had to hire an outside company to run the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s enrollment website, which would you rather have: a goody-two-shoes outfit that doesn’t know what it’s doing or a competent, well-known consulting firm that makes liberal use of offshore tax havens?

The best choice is neither, of course. Ideally, the U.S. government would set a good example and pick a skilled U.S. contractor that isn’t a poster child for clever tax shelters. Instead, the job of taking over construction of, which failed miserably when it debuted in October, is going to Accenture Plc, which switched its place of incorporation in 2009 to Ireland from Bermuda. It will replace Montreal-based CGI Group Inc., which got the blame for many of the website’s early problems.

It was only last May that the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held hearings excoriating Apple Inc., which is based in Cupertino, California, over its use of Ireland as a tax haven. So it’s a bit surprising to see that hardly anyone is complaining about the Accenture hire. This may be an example of an orphan controversy. It’s sitting there waiting for someone to make a big deal of it, but there aren’t many politicians with an interest in doing so — even on a hot-button subject as politicized as Obamacare.

Democrats in Congress generally don’t want to be seen badmouthing the White House or the Affordable Care Act. Many Republican lawmakers (and plenty of Democrats, too) may be reluctant to criticize corporate tax dodges. For instance, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a reliable Tea Party basher of Obamacare, spent much of his time at last year’s Senate hearing defending Apple’s use of offshore refuges to avoid U.S. taxes.

Accenture has endured so much criticism over the years for its use of tax havens that it even has a disclosure in its annual report warning investors to expect as much.

“Some companies that conduct substantial business in the United States but which have a parent domiciled in certain other jurisdictions have been criticized as improperly avoiding U.S. taxes or creating an unfair competitive advantage over other U.S. companies,” Accenture said. “Accenture never conducted business under a U.S. parent company and pays U.S. taxes on all of its U.S. operations. Nonetheless, we could be subject to criticism in connection with our incorporation in Ireland.”

That isn’t the whole story. Accenture got its start as part of the Chicago-based accounting firm Arthur Andersen. The firm’s consultants won an agreement in 1989 to form their own unit, Andersen Consulting, which remained affiliated with Arthur Andersen until 2000, when the two organizations severed ties. Andersen Consulting changed its name to Accenture in 2001 and went public the same year. Then, in 2002, Arthur Andersen imploded after being indicted in connection with its audit work for Enron Corp., the failed energy trader.

In other words, Accenture’s roots date back to a once-iconic American business, which helps explain why it’s gotten a lot of heat for incorporating in tax havens since spinning off.

In a 2002 report, the Government Accountability Office found that four of the 100 largest publicly traded federal contractors were incorporated in tax-haven countries. Accenture was one of them. The others were conglomerate Tyco International Ltd. and oil-services companies McDermott International Inc. and Foster Wheeler Ltd. Since then, Foster Wheeler and Tyco have switched locales to Switzerland from Bermuda. McDermott is still incorporated in Panama, while its executive offices are in Houston.

Plenty of other companies have drawn similar scrutiny. In 2008, the GAO released a report that looked at the 100 largest U.S.-based federal contractors that were publicly traded. It found that 63 of them had subsidiaries in tax havens. Citigroup Inc. had the most with 427, including 91 in Luxembourg, 90 in the Cayman Islands, 19 in Bermuda and 16 in Ireland.

All that said, if Accenture can make work properly, there probably won’t be many people criticizing it as a poor choice, model corporate citizen or not. The government doesn’t need angels for this job. It needs people who know how to build a good website.

(Jonathan Weil is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanWeil)

AFP Photo/Karen Bleier

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]