A 7-foot tall statue of famed, lion-maned abolitionist Frederick Douglass that was dedicated on Capitol Hill Wednesday is perhaps best understood as a bronze symbol of the partisan divide in Washington and of racial politics.
It took years for the statue of the ex-slave who later became a friend of President Abraham Lincoln - an important journalist of his day and a federal official, as well - to land a spot because it became a proxy in the fight over voting rights and statehood for Washington, D.C.
District of Columbia officials years ago asked to have statues representing the district placed on display in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall just like the statues provided by the 50 states. They wanted two statues, one of Douglass and another of Pierre L'Enfant, the Frenchman who planned the layout of the district.
Republicans rebuffed the request, however, arguing that D.C. was not a state and therefore didn't rate the privilege of having representation in Statuary Hall.
The back and forth went on for years with national Democrats supporting the District, which has a non-voting delegate in the House, for the usual reasons. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic and until recently was majority black. A politician's support for District voting rights and statehood has long been viewed by African Americans as general solidarity with them.
For Republicans, there's little upside to the strongly Democratic District getting statehood or votes in Congress. Allowing the statues could be a step down a slippery slope since the District would receive yet one more attribute of a state.
A compromise was reached in September. Douglas, but not L'Enfant, would get a Capitol Hill spot, though in the Capitol Visitors Center, not Statuary Hall.
It probably helped the cause of Douglass's statue that he belonged to the GOP, like most abolitionists before and during the Civil War and African Americans after the war.
At the official dedication ceremony Wednesday, Speaker John Boehner noted that at the 1888 Republican National Convention, Douglass was the first African American to have his name placed in nomination for the presidency. Benjamin Harrison, the eventual nominee and president, had little to worry about: Douglass got just one vote.
Allowing the Douglass statue also probably wouldn't hurt and might help the image of a Republican Party whose establishment knows it needs to attract more minority voters or at least not turn them off.
Meanwhile, Democrats like Vice President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi used the dedication event to call for the District to get a vote in Congress (Biden, Reid and Pelosi) and even statehood (Reid and Pelosi).
Douglass, who advocated for District voting rights himself, would have appreciated that. After all, he once said: "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will."
The world's wealthiest nations are promising to fight what they call the scourge of tax evasion. This week's meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized countries concluded with a pledge to end the use of tax shelters by multinational corporations.
But there are still big questions about how they will make a dent in the problem.
In the aftermath of the global recession, countries all over the world have struggled with budget shortfalls. More and more of them have come to blame part of their revenue problems on one culprit — tax avoidance.
The G-8 statement this week represents a kind of doubling down on the determination of wealthy countries to take on the problem.
"If you want a low-tax economy, which I believe is fundamental to growth, you have to collect the taxes that are owed," British Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday. "That is only fair for companies and for people who play by the rules."
Big Questions Remain
But the G-8 statement was short on specifics about how to address the problem.
It says tax authorities in different countries should share information more readily. It also says multinational companies should be more transparent about the taxes they pay.
Cameron spoke about creating a new international mechanism that would track where companies are earning their profits and under what name. That would make clear whether they are paying what they owe.
But the statement stops short of advocating a central ownership registry for corporations — something many tax activists have long pressed for.
Jack Blum of Tax Justice Network USA says such a registry would make it harder for companies to hide their profits in shell corporations.
"A registry will go a very long way to helping people sort out who's hiding money where and really help tax collectors collect the money that's owed," he says.
Blum says the G-8 statement is a step in the right direction.
"They've said a lot of the right things," he says. "Now the question is how will they do it?"
Blum says it is now up to lawmakers in the G-8 countries to spell out and agree on exactly what they want to do — and that promises to be a long and contentious process.
"This isn't a treaty; it's nothing that's passed the Congress," he says. "There are many hurdles between here and real action."
Anticipating Business Opposition
Any major change in U.S. tax law is certain to face opposition by business groups.
Catherine Schultz of the National Foreign Trade Council says companies shift money around in a complex global economy for good reason. And what often seems like tax evasion to the public is really a legal effort by companies to minimize their tax bill.
"If it's legal under the tax rules for them to minimize their taxes, we need to change the underlying tax rules, we need to go to tax reform, we need to fix our system," Schultz says.
Business groups also insist the real problem is that U.S. corporate tax rates are higher than in other developed countries. They say that any effort to crack down on tax evasion needs to be done as a part of an overall reform of the nation's tax code.
In this edition of the new go-to guide for NPR Podcasts, we're on a mission to help you learn something. Well, not just something, but everything by listening to the appropriately titled podcast, How To Do Everything*, hosted by Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! producers Mike Danforth and Ian Chillag.
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Edward Snowden, the man commonly called "the NSA leaker" for his role in publishing documents that exposed a secret U.S. surveillance program, would reportedly not receive special treatment from the United Nations if he applies for asylum. The AP says Snowden is in "informal talks" with Iceland about applying for asylum there.
Snowden's last known location was Hong Kong, where he was when revelations about the secret PRISM program first came out. At the time, Snowden told The Guardian, which published several stories based on the information he provided, that he would like "to seek asylum in a country with shared values." He named Iceland as a prime example.
But as Iceland's ambassador to China explained to the South China Morning Post, an applicant for asylum in Iceland must already be in the country. In an email to the newspaper, Ambassador Kristin Arnadottir also said that Iceland's Ministry of the Interior handles all asylum applications, reports the web site Ice News.
The Morning Post reports that U.N. official Nazneen Farooqi, of the High Commissioner for Refugees' office in Hong Kong, said they don't give special priority to certain cases.
"We prioritize older cases," she said at a press conference about World Refugee Day (which is today).
The newspaper says that means an application could take months or years to process. And it adds that Farooqi was speaking in hypothetical terms, as her office does not discuss — or affirm the existence of — specific asylum claims.
As The Two Way reported last week, Snowden isn't alone in feeling an affinity for Iceland. It has also served as a haven for WikiLeaks and U.S. expatriate Bobby Fischer, who died in Iceland in 2008.
Citing officials in Iceland, the AP says that a WikiLeaks spokesman "who claims to represent Edward Snowden has reached out to government officials in Iceland about the potential of the NSA leaker applying for asylum in the Nordic country."
The news agency says that WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson held informal talks with staff members working in the Interior Ministry and for the prime minister. According to Icelandic government official Johannes Skulason, WikiLeaks' Hrafnsson says he is in touch with Snowden and is exploring the asylum process.
We should note that in Fischer's case, the former chess champion was in legal limbo while in Japan, with the U.S. government wanting to speak with him about breaking a sanction against Yugoslavia. In that case, Iceland extended citizenship to Fischer outright, and Japan chose to send him to the country.
At the Pine Ridge Reservation just outside the town of Whiteclay, Neb., an upside-down American flag flies on a wooden pole next to a teepee. About 60 people gathered here Monday to protest as beer truck drivers unloaded cases into a Whiteclay liquor store a few hundred yards away.
Whiteclay has one paved street and four liquor stores. Alcohol is banned on Pine Ridge, but alcoholism is rampant here and the unemployment rate hovers around 80 percent. The town sells the equivalent of about 5 million cans of beer annually — mostly to impoverished tribal residents. Homeless Native Americans who drink and sleep in Whiteclay can outnumber town residents.
The protesters want to block further alcohol deliveries, and are using blockades and marches like this to try to curb beer sales.
A Protest Escalates
Oglala Sioux Tribal President Bryan Brewer is among the protesters. "As leaders we should be ahead of the people," he says. "We need to support our activists who are stepping up and confronting this issue."
Sheridan County Sheriff Terry Robbins confronts the blockade, and Brewer steps up. He says the beer trucks "are not going in today. ... Any other day, but not today."
"Yes, they are," the sheriff replies.
"I'm sorry, but they're not," Brewer says. "Don't argue with me."
Brewer is ultimately arrested. As the crowd resists, an officer puts a stun gun to a protester's neck, and the conflict quickly escalates into shouting and shoving.
Brewer remains calm and tries to pacify those around him. He is charged not for blocking traffic, but for an outstanding warrant on a bad check. Jamian Simmons, the county prosecutor, says the charges were dropped once Brewer made good on the check.
While Monday's conflict passed without major violence, Simmons says that wasn't the case during a similar blockade last month.
"[The protesters] used axes and sledgehammers to smash up the [delivery] trucks," she says. "There were threats made to the drivers that if they came back to Whiteclay, they would be killed. Individuals were flashing knives."
Protesters argue that attacking delivery trucks is not an act of violence. They also accuse a liquor store owner of arming local thugs with baseball bats to intimidate them. Store owners and beer distributors refused to comment for this story.
Putting Prohibition To A Vote
As the protest on the Whiteclay-Pine Ridge border continues, the tribal council approved a permanent checkpoint at the border to try to stem the flow of liquor onto the reservation.
But the council is also putting prohibition itself up for a referendum. Council member Robin Tapio backs efforts to legalize alcohol here. "Alcohol is a choice that we make," she says. "So I did not support the [protest] up there because I just don't feel it's right."
Protest leaders like Olowan Martinez harshly criticize council members who want to allow alcohol on the reservation. "They're cannibals because they want to profit," she says. "They want to gain something off of the misery of their own. To me that's a form of cannibalism."
Strong words that underscore the strong feeling here. Following council president Brewer's arrest, Martinez and others maintained the blockade and the beer trucks eventually turned away.
Protesters may have won the battle this week — but the beer trucks are likely to roll into Whiteclay again, and this conflict shows few signs of ending soon.