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THESE ARE OUR SAVIORS? SPARE US!

THESE ARE OUR SAVIORS? SPARE US!

It is interesting that people who hate government are so desperate to be involved in its epicenter. Thus we have Bennett of Utah and now Lugar of Indiana who are insufficiently right wing to cut the mustard, and must go – and have gone.

 Apparently the rationale of the far right wing is to get into government so that they can destroy it. There seems to be an attitude that government is inherently bad and that we must follow the constitution in order to defray its excesses, real or imagined. This view is the opposite of the view of the Founders who wrote the constitution and considered government to be a noble exercise of representative democracy, the central thread/rationale for having a government in the first place.

I am of the opinion that a lot of the line we hear from the right is false by design; that they care little of the real issues of the day (unemployment, international trade issues, the environment etc.), but use them very cynically for the purpose of effectuating their real design, which is to make the rich and corporate class richer with a view toward a form of a latter day feudalist state in which we are the vassals and corporations are (effectively) the state. I have blogged on this topic a couple of times to this effect.

Methodologies to make this happen include privatization efforts (designed to make profits and remove public control over public matters such as education, social security and other now government programs where lots of money is there for the taking). It is important in such a scheme of things that all such programs subject to privatization be trashed by pre-takeover propaganda about how  cost ineffective and un-American they are, how government cannot do anything right, and how private enterprise can come in on the white horse and save the day.

There are those of us who disagree with this cozy assessment; we have seen the bankrupt prone Trumps, Gilded Age trusts, the Enrons, Madoffs et al. and have witnessed firsthand the performances of those on the white horses in our recent bailouts of these intrepid horsemen, who never met an asset that could not be securitized.

These are our saviors? Spare us!

It appears that the role of government should properly be to bail out the rich but leave the poor and the veterans under the bridge in the far right wing’s philosophy of government. It seems to me that if the only real purpose of government is to serve as a blocking back for the rich ball carrier to make money, whatever the pretense and propaganda, then it is time to cancel the game. I, for one do not wish to participate in such a phony excuse for government, where money capital writes and enforces the rules ranging from sexual mores to the air we breathe. There are numerous and better options, and all involve an active engagement of the citizenry and a refusal to sell our public wealth and our futures as serfs serving a corporate culture.

 We should show corporate privatizers the gate and proceed to flesh out our own futures (financed in part by more equitable taxation rates – the latest outrage being that GE has paid an annualized rate of only 2.3% on its billions in profits over the last decade, a far less rate than many pay who are on food stamps)! Such disparities in financing America (among other things) must cease – now!  GERALD E

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DAY BEFORE YESTERDAY’S NEWS TOMORROW

DAY BEFORE YESTERDAY’S NEWS TOMORROW

Years from now when we look back at day before yesterday’s news we may have little to say about how Kim handed Trump his head on a plate in Singapore and a lot to say about a federal judge’s approval of an 85 billion dollar merger of AT&T and Time Warner, a finding which clipped the wings of anti-trust regulators as they face several other large mergers and acquisitions awaiting approval, such as Comcast’s planned bid for merger with 21st Century Fox, CVS’s acquisition of Aetna and others sure to arise given the precedent set day before yesterday. It is also noteworthy that the court approved the AT&T-Time Warner merger day before yesterday without conditions, another green light for new merger and acquisition activity, an activity hardly in need of further stimulation.

The court in announcing its approval without conditions found that the Justice Department failed to provide sufficient proof that the deal would harm competition or consumers and told a packed courtroom that the government’s economic analysis “rested on improper notions.” The court also warned the government not to seek a stay on the merger if it brings an appeal since under the merger agreement AT&T must close its deal with Time Warner by June 20 or pay a penalty of $500 million, which the court said would be “manifestly unjust” to AT&T’s shareholders and the business community.

DOJ’s expert economist says that Americans could be paying an extra $571 million a year for TV if AT&T and Time Warner merge, and that seems to me to do harm to consumers. As for AT&T’s obligation to pay a penalty under the terms of an agreement the two parties made in anticipation of merger, they are big boys with deep pockets and I am sure their lawyers can work out a compromise should the DOJ seek a stay and appeal the district court’s finding, and I cannot see how the DOJ’s legal tactics should be bound to the terms of a contract to which it is not privy.

In any event, even if AT&T were to pay Time Warner a $500 million penalty it would be a one-shot deal, whereas the cost to American consumers could be more than that and payable year after year. To be candid (and I did not hear the evidence), I think the court is overstepping its bounds in advising the DOJ not to seek a stay and appeal, especially since on appeal the appellate court may send the case back with instructions to the same district court judge who advised against stay and appeal, which could create a rather sticky situation.

Companies who wish to merge with or acquire other companies in the same business are said to be engaging in a horizontal activity; such companies when they wish to merge or acquire other companies in different businesses are said to be engaging in a vertical activity. The AT&T – Time Warner merger is a vertical activity and I don’t know how far this merger mania can go in uniting disparate or even similar businesses if restraint and regulation are to be a thing of the past.

Thus shall we have ping pong ball corporations merging with AI corporations? Pharmaceutical companies with Burger King? Are harm to consumers and higher prices the only criteria for refusal to allow mergers and acquisitions, whether vertical or horizontal? At the rate accelerating mergers and acquisitions are being proposed are we ultimately headed for ONE CORPORATION, with branches and subsidiaries, which will control all commerce, finance, production, distribution etc.? If so, how can such a leviathan aggregation of power coexist within a democracy where “all sovereignty rests with the people?” I foresee civil commotion at best.

Perhaps I’m worrying too far in advance of such a possibility but with the merger and acquisition mania at fever pitch and little regulatory restraint perhaps I’m not, since prices are regulated by competition and if there is no competition, guess what happens to prices? To do > Communicate with your members of Congress, set forth your concerns of ultimate monopoly, and agitate for changes in the Sherman Anti-Trust and Clayton Acts so that we can cut such a possibility off at the pass. A continuation of our democracy, tattered as it is from current political attacks, may depend upon it.     GERALD       E

 

TRUMP, KIM AND SINGAPORE

TRUMP, KIM AND SINGAPORE

The Singapore meeting between Trump and Kim is history ending in a preliminary agreement to negotiate which will hopefully lead to a later substantive agreement to be signed. As of now, nothing of substance is in black and white and we may be years away from such an agreement, if ever it comes to pass. Neither signatory to the preliminary and non-binding agreement to negotiate can be trusted; one is a murderous dictator and the other is a wannabe dictator full of himself in his quest for a Nobel. Both are demonstrable liars.

The foregoing is hard fact, not Pollyanna fancy. Trump is using his usual superlatives in describing his exploits by telling us that the North Korean leadership can be trusted, that he would “love” to have Kim visit the White House, and that peace in our time is on hand. The undercurrent we are led to consider is that North Korea is a good nation-state the victim of American saber-rattling and sanctions and had to go the nuclear route as an expression of its sovereignty in securing its borders. Now, presumably, due to the diplomatic prowess of these two leaders, we are to start anew (as though the Korean War did not happen and as though North Korea is not a hard left communist country led by a murderous cabal) and “promise to be good from now on.” The past is to be thrown down an Orwellian “memory hole.” Anybody conversant with real politic who swallows that line and that the moon is made of green cheese, well, I have this bridge. . .

Trump lost the battle of Singapore in the first instance when he agreed to meet with Kim, thus validating Kim’s importance as a world leader, a leader who more than once has bragged about nuclear-tipped missiles he could land on Guam or Hawaii or anywhere in the continental United States. Instead of basking in his narcissistic limelight, Trump should have quietly dispatched his secretary of state and diplomatic experts to handle the preliminary chore of agreeing to talk agreement, but his narcissistic desire for headlines and the Nobel intervened and he took it upon himself to gobble up the TV cameras for an agreement to talk about an agreement.

Trump now says that Kim is interested in denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and that monitoring will assure the world that his regime does in fact denuclearize, that in return he has told Kim that he will end the “war games” played by American troops in South Korea and overflights from Guam. He specifically and repeatedly stated in such connection that such war games and overflights were “very expensive,” as though that has anything to do with saving the planet from nuclear catastrophe, and as though he is concerned with enormous expense in view of his signature on a recent catastrophic tax bill that gave some two trillion dollars to the rich and corporate class – speaking of “very expensive.”

So what happened in Singapore beyond the photo-ops, reversible promises, and pledges to negotiate further down the line? I hope, a lot, but the proof of the pudding is in the pudding, and I have little faith in the pudding chefs in Singapore’s kitchen. However, sometimes miracles happen, even with bumbling amateurs, so let’s hope this is one such time.     GERALD        E

WHICH GEORGE?

WHICH GEORGE?

When citizens say they “love” their country they do not mean love in the sense of adoration; they rather mean that they have great respect and affection for what their country stands for, how it is organized to treat its people and others, its norms of political and economic conduct toward each and all of its people etc., all of which when compounded translates into a steadfast and resolute desire to defend one’s country from those who would destroy such norms and conduct “from all enemies, foreign or domestic.” This, loosely and perhaps incompletely stated, can be called “patriotism.”

Thus one is a “patriot” if he/she defends his/her country and what it stands for and defends it “from all enemies, foreign or domestic,” and a bad citizen or even traitor if he/she does not. History is replete with stories of wartime traitors such as Major Andre (who was hung) and Benedict Arnold (who was not, rather escaping to England and living out his life there). Arnold had friends in high places and was a friend and confidant of George Washington, but a traitor to the American cause during the Revolution. Apparently he did not agree with the post-Enlightenment language of the Declaration of Independence crafted by Jefferson, but pretended to in order to carry out his traitorous intentions.

The name Benedict Arnold will forever live in infamy as a latter day Judas Iscariot, and rightly so. Though I do not know his evil purpose, it must have had something to do with the acquisition of power via subversion of the Revolution and his subsequent appointment by King George to oversee the defeated colonies in dictatorial fashion. If so, then Arnold, like our present day wannabe part time president, was acquisition of all power – a situation we have seen through the ages with monarchs and individuals ranging from Attila through monarchies through such latter day exponents as Hitler, Stalin et al.

The foregoing is a thumbnail sketch of citizen-state tension and how it is resolved in a democracy, but what if we have a bad citizen, or worse, a traitor already in power? What if we have a self-appointed Benedict Arnold, illegitimately elected, with support from our enemies, who is in the process of grabbing all power with the aid and support of a political party whose members were elected in a post-Enlightenment atmosphere but whose failure to support the founding principles of our democracy under the cover of “politics as usual” amounts to aiding and supporting the domestic overthrow of our democracy?

How do we patriots respond to the current domestic attempts by Trump (who through ignorance, design or in concert with Putin) to subvert the Constitution and overthrow our democracy while covering such an evil plan with potshots at our allies, threats of tariffs and wars on the international level, etc.? The temptation is to agitate for a counter revolution against such political terrorism from domestic sources but I think that premature since, while our democracy is teetering, I think it will last long enough to see what happens this November. We will see then whether the polity favors one of two Georges, either George Washington or King George.

To those who think this essay overstates the issue and is designed to alarm, that’s what the Romanovs thought about Lenin and his Bolsheviks, who grabbed power and ended the Romanov dynasty by murdering every member of the Romanov dynasty, man, woman and child, leaving no one to be alarmed. I will not be voting for a dictator or anyone who helps him or her become one under the auspices of any political party; I will be voting for those who will defend our democracy which, as I often write, is one of the last few things left worth dying for.      GERALD        E

 

 

 

 

ADVENTURES IN SINGAPORE

ADVENTURES IN SINGAPORE

Today Kim and Trump have arrived in Singapore for what the media has described as “historic talks.” I disagree. Both are amateurs, and amateurs don’t have “historic talks,” even with the advice of experts in the field of foreign relations, whom both Kim and Trump as narcissists will ignore rather than share the spotlight. Kim can have his disagreeable domestic advisers shot for treason, and (so far) Trump can only disparage or fire his expert help.

Kim is a dictator and Trump is a wannabe dictator; Kim has won his objective of just having a meeting with Trump (which validates his importance) and Trump, as usual, cares only about the appearance rather than the substantive result of such “historic talks” in his narcissistic haze and is angling for a me-me-me Nobel Peace Prize.  (Can’t let Obama get one without being matched, you know.) Everything, including nuclear war, must take a back seat to me-me-me in Trump’s twisted otherworld of terminal narcissism.

Unduly cynical in view of the enormous stakes involved, Gerald E? I wish I were, but my experience with our illegitimate, corrupt and lying president over the past 18 months tells me it is time to speak truth to power whatever the setting, and that a good argument can be made that the bigger the stakes the more reason to speak up, hence this commentary.

Trump, again as usual (see the G-7 Quebec Conference), is making threats in advance of the “historic talks” to the effect that this is “a one-shot deal” for Kim. Such threats may have already poisoned the possibility of success of the “talks,” and while Trump will call it a tactic, he fails to recognize that he is talking down to a fellow narcissist – a no-no in Kim’s otherworld. Narcissists do not cotton to intimidation, and if the “historic talks” fail or are drawn out interminably, it may well be such pre-talk intimidation from Trump that did the trick. Thanks, Don. . .

Let’s take a look at a few of these “experts” and newsmen who are accompanying Trump on this historic mission, since that tells us what ammunition Trump expects to have at hand as a show of force. He has his “War at all costs” stern and hairy-faced John Bolton along, presumably to instill fear into Kim that a military strike is just around the corner if he does not accede to all of Trump’s demands. He has Hannity along to broadcast to Fox World what a consummate diplomat Trump proved to be and how (whatever the outcome) Trump’s skills deserve a Nobel Peace Prize for having blunted Kim’s threat to world peace with his contribution (in propaganda reminiscent to that of Goebbels in lauding der fuehrer in another day). Oh, and incidentally, Dennis Rodman is expected to be in Singapore, perhaps to lend his diplomatic expertise to the show.

With all the foregoing, I hope I am wrong. The stakes are indeed high. I hope Trump (whatever his tactics and other shortcomings) does succeed in these talks leading to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. While I have faint hope for his success, miracles do happen, and let’s all hope for the sake of humanity that the “historic talks” are “historic” and that a miracle happens in Singapore.     GERALD      E

TRUMP AND G-6, G-7 and G-8

TRUMP AND G-6, G-7 and G-8

I am quite concerned about Trump’s upcoming trip to the G-7 conference and use the G-6, G-7 and G-8 terms advisedly, to wit: G-6 if the group kicks us out or Trump decides to withdraw, G-7 if they don’t and Trump decides to remain in it, and G-8 if nothing happens and Russia is readmitted, as recommended by Trump in a proposal that is DOA with the rest of our allies in the group. Russia was kicked out of the group upon Putin’s annexation of the Crimea, an act of aggression that still rankles among members of that group who continue to demand that Putin leave that peninsula and eastern Ukraine.

Apparently such acts of aggression are meaningless to Trump what with his endorsement of Russian readmission to the (currently) G-7 group, and whether such endorsement springs out of ignorance, headline grabbing, a desire to sew discord and confusion among our allies, or some really deep stuff Putin has hanging over his head, and I do mean deep, deep enough to engender Trump’s apparent treason which he covers with bluster and bravado and which Republicans do nothing about, I am not privy.

NATO was formed as a countervailing force to stop Russian aggression in Europe. Trump has engaged in putdowns galore of NATO and has been very friendly with Putin for no discernible policy reason, finally culminating in his proposal for Russian readmission to the group that Putin be in effect rewarded for his aggression in the Crimea and Ukraine, and with the Baltic States next on Putin’s menu if he and Trump can pull this coup off in a game in which Trump runs blocking back for Putin’s grabs in Europe and elsewhere.

We have a Captain Ahab steering our ship of state and Obama is his “Great White Whale.” He may or may not be a racist but he knows racism sells and, being primarily a salesman, is peddling this nonsense to the gullible for political purposes. He is a man with an addled state of mind who knows little and has no interest in learning. He cavorts with China, Russia and now even North Korea while taking potshots at our allies (especially Macron, Merkel and May) via trade wars and personal insult with the seeming intent to cover up the massive corruption in his administration and his deep collusion with Russian interests in his election, an election result that Clapper now says would not have happened but for such Russian interference. He continues to follow Bannon’s admittedly Leninist view of “deconstruction of the administrative state,” which is shorthand for destruction of American democracy, our most important asset held in common and one of the last few things we have left worth dying for.

Trump is not running the country through any coherent policy scheme (other than further enriching the rich and impoverishing the rest of us) but is rather floating along with day to day – by the seat of your pants edicts via tweeted insults, punitive and selective tariffs, pardon photo-ops etc. etc. etc. He has to go  or we and our democracy have to go, one or the other, and his removal should be a bipartisan exercise if Republicans choose to live up to the traditions of some of their ethical leaders such as Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Ford. What is your response to this challenge, Republicans? Are you statesmen and women or are you pipsqueaks willing to watch our democracy go down the drain? Your call.     GERALD         E

THE LABOR NOOSE TIGHTENS

THE LABOR NOOSE TIGHTENS

Yesterday I saw a Detroit newspaper headline to the effect that the Republicans in the Michigan State Legislature had ended the prevailing wage law that required a “prevailing wage” be paid to workers on public projects. Prevailing wages are typically living wages and the wages this legislature is inviting to be paid are not going to be living wages – guaranteed – since private contractors bidding on state projects such as roads, bridges and buildings will take advantage of this new anti-labor law as an opportunity to increase profits with lowered bids and, thus armed with legislative edict, will employ lots of chicanery and pretense in cutting their workers’ wages to increase their relative slice of the pie. Republicans in the Michigan legislature have thus picked winners and losers; their campaign-contributing contractors win and laboring men and women lose, among others and even all of us, as we shall see.

Republicans in the legislature say that removal of the prevailing wage schedule for public projects will save the taxpayers money, and of course that may be true, but following such logic to its dry end, let’s just reinstitute slavery by legislative edict calling for nothing as a wage scale for work on public projects, which would save taxpayers even more money. Alternatively, why stop at minimum wage (aka starvation wage) levels on our trek downward in dehumanizing wage scales when not only the current atrocity here under discussion is applicable in addition to the recent Republican labor-hating adoption of a grossly misnamed “right to work” law – and in the Land of Reuther! In an ideal world, both such disgusting laws masquerading as being in the public interest should be repealed post haste and without further discussion.

Republicans have thus ventured into the land of what economists call “externalities,” or roughly speaking, unexpected consequences, with their thoughtless removal of prevailing wage scales on public projects. Workers who have been accustomed to a prevailing wage as opposed to the drastic reduction in their wages sure to come have mortgages, car payments, insurance  premiums and myriad other expenses based on their current wage scales, scales that banks, mortgage companies and others depended upon for lending to such workers. They must now brace themselves for late payments, mortgage foreclosures and even bankruptcies along with other vendors who will be stiffed in Chapter 7 proceedings. Neighborhood merchants and grocery chains will note a decrease in demand from such underpaid workers and aggregate demand (the sole arbiter and determinant of economic growth) will be stifled as GDP takes a hit which, along with other such GOP legislative atrocities, brings recession into view.

Note to Republicans in the Michigan legislature > You picked a lot more losers than you thought, losers that include banks, mortgage companies, lumberyards, grocery stores, tax revenues to government et al., not to mention the effects of the billions of dollars in lost GDP and aggregate demand, which underpin our defense against recession. Brilliant move! Thanks for nothing!     GERALD      E

 

BOOM FOR WHOM

BOOM FOR WHOM?

Professor Sheila Kennedy in her blog recently decries a system where those barely above the poverty line and who are working are unable to get ahead because of poor minimum wage levels, noting that millions of such underpaid workers are one medical emergency away from bankruptcy. My view:

Sheila is right to call out the powers that be with their propaganda to the effect that all is rosy, the economy is booming, employment is up, wages are up, and everyone is happy. What they don’t tell us is that the grossly misnamed (as in “right to work”) “tax cuts and jobs” legislation sponsored by Trump and Ryan has brought on price inflation, higher interest rates etc. which have long since swallowed up the chump change increase Trump and Ryan so magnanimously handed out to us proles recently while obligating us to trillions more in long term debt and interest and while reducing taxes on the superrich to pay for such largesse – largesse, that is, to the superrich.

Also lost in business press and Wall Street translation were the millions and millions of citizens in poverty (to our shame the highest percentage in the Western World) and those “tweeners” to which Sheila refers, those who work but who are relegated to virtually slave wages and who are one appendectomy away from Chapter 7 bankruptcy per Senator Warren, perhaps the world’s most brilliant bankruptcy professor (and parenthetically, my current choice for President), who tells us the numbers show that medical emergencies are the biggest cause of bankruptcy.

When, as Sheila has, you add the poverty stricken to the tweeners, you have a country that is booming for some and an adventure in poverty for millions of others, which does not fit my definition of “booming.” The problem at bottom is wage inequality. Simply put, the financial class is taking far too much of the wealth and income of the economy out of the pot and leaving too little to other participants in the economy, especially the labor sector.

The Dow is in the stratosphere and the financiers are rolling in retained “earnings” (including a gift of something less than 2 trillion dollars (but at increasing interest) given to them by the Trump-Ryan bill while cutting their taxes, an unearned gift which we were told would be spent on increasing their workers’ wages, building new plant, buying new equipment etc. This huge giveaway of your money and mine went instead (as we knew it would) into stock buybacks, capital gains etc. out of money given (and not earned) to them. Its toxic effects (including a new look at ratings by Moody’s) will, I have predicted, bring us to recession later this year or next year at the latest, especially with Trump’s short-sighted tariff games which will increasingly roil international markets and perhaps speed the day of reckoning.

We have not had an increase in the already then inadequate federal minimum wage since 2009. It stands, apparently forever, at $7.25 an hour, though I note that our politicians have adjusted our codes and rules many times over while tinkering with Dodd-Frank (to the banks’ delight) and lowering taxes on the superrich during such period, culminating in the Trump-Ryan atrocity, a hit our economy may not be able to withstand in even the medium term. Considering that the median wage in 2009 (as adjusted for inflation) had not been raised for some 20 years before then, any substantial increase in minimum wages would have still amounted to slave wages, which is where we stand today and which is the prime reason aggregate demand is not booming even though Wall Street is.

My position is that we have a booming economy when wages and the Dow rise in tandem (as they did following WW II up to Reagan following the infamous memo of Lewis Powell in 1971 and Reagan’s later adoption of trickledown economics on the back of a napkin supplied by Friedman of the right wing Chicago School of Economics fame. I think wage inequality (aside from Trump’s inanities) is our number one domestic issue and that we should play catch-up with a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour. Can’t afford it? Wrong. Our people and our economy cannot afford not to afford it. Corporate workers have done their share for the last some 999940 years; it’s time the financiers ponied up their share which, it may surprise such moneychangers to know, that adoption of such Keynesian policies (as we did after WW II) will cause a boom in aggregate demand which will put more profits in their bottom lines in a win-win situation. There is an old saying that “if you want to make money, you have to spend money.” Henry Ford was castigated by his fellow industrialists for his outrageous grant of a five dollar day to his workers who were building his Model Ts at the beginning of the 20th century. He was called a communist, a socialist and other vile names by his industrial peers. He answered that he wanted to pay higher wages so that his workers could buy his cars. Result? His workers enjoyed higher wages for that time and day, bought his Model Ts, and he became a billionaire. Lesson learned?     GERALD       E