Skip to content

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

Advertisements

THE DEMISE OF THE SHERMAN ANTI-TRUST ACT(PART II)

THE DEMISE OF THE SHERMAN ANTI-TRUST ACT (PART II)

Some two weeks ago I promised my followers a Part II to the demise of the titled act but am tardy in producing it what with intervening disasters in New York and Texas and an election which has national consequences. With my apologies for the delay, following is Part II of the essay.

I inferentially suggested to my followers that I would discuss in Part II some of the unbelievable tactics used by the first Gilded Age captains of industry and commerce and how we are in a second Gilded Age today, how the Sherman Anti-Trust Act is all but dead from lack of enforcement, and the price we pay for such failure to contain monopolies and their anti-competitive practices, including excessive prices charged by such large corporations or combinations who gain market power via political power such monopolists buy with campaign contributions, hordes of lawyers and lobbyists etc.

Surprisingly (by today’s standards since the Republican Party has sold its soul to big business monopolists), the reformers in the first Gilded Age were Republicans, though there was widespread bipartisan support for an anti-trust act. John Sherman, a Republican senator from Ohio, introduced his namesake anti-trust bill and it passed the Senate with only one dissenting vote and passed the House with no dissenting votes, rendering it veto-proof. It was signed into law by then President Benjamin Harrison on July 2, 1890.

There was genuine concern on both sides of the aisle in that day and age that combinations of concentrated economic power possessed by corporations leading to restraint of trade, anti-competitive practices and excessive pricing posed a threat to government itself, as well there should have been and today as well. Following are some quotes from those on the battlefield of the first Gilded Age per Reich in his book, Saving Capitalism. Teddy Roosevelt, in castigating these “malefactors of great wealth” who were “equally careless of working men, whom they oppress, and of the State, whose existence they imperil,” sued the Harrimans under the Act and later recounted that the lawsuit “served notice on everybody that it was going to be the Government, and not the Harrimans, who govern these United States.”

Henry Demarest Lloyd in his 1894 book, Wealth Against Commonwealth, noted that “Liberty produces wealth, and wealth destroys liberty. The flames of the new economic evolution run around us, and we turn to find that competition has killed competition, that corporations are grown greater than the State. . . and that the naked issue of our time is with property becoming master, instead of servant.”

Mary Lease, populist reformer of that day, charged that “Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street and for Wall Street.” Sound familiar? It should. Look around. Taft broke up the Rockefeller Standard Oil empire in 1911 and Ma Bell was broken up as late as 1984 under terms of the Act, but how many breakups have you seen lately? Try zero; the Act is not enforced. What you see instead are mergers and acquisitions by big corporations with barely a dissent from the deliberately underfunded anti-trust division of the AG’s office, an AG currently under investigation himself, among other members of Trump’s cabinet filled with generals, Wall Streeters and ideologues, hence the onset of a second Gilded Age, one our democracy may not survive as the rich and corporate class is on the verge of literally owning America and its people as proof of the old adage that “He that’s got the gold makes the rules.”

So who were these bad guys and companies who brought on the Sherman Anti-Trust Act to contain their lust for power and money with their monopolistic practices and excessive pricing? Among others, they were the robber barons Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt per Reich, “whose steel mills, oil rigs and refineries, and railroads laid the foundations of America’s industrial might,” but “they also squeezed out rivals who threatened their dominant positions and they ran roughshod over democracy. They ran their own slates for office and brazenly bribed public officials, even sending lackeys with sacks of money to be placed on the desks of pliant legislators.” “What do I care about the law,” Vanderbilt infamously growled? “Hain’t I got the power?”

Seventeen years before the enactment of Sherman, in 1873, the Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court warned the graduating class of the University of Wisconsin that “The question will arise, and arise in your day, though perhaps not fully in mine, ‘Which shall rule – wealth or man; which shall lead – money or intellect; who shall fill public stations – educated and patriotic free men, or the feudal serfs of corporate capital?’” We have our answer, Mr. Chief Justice. We are well into being owned lock, stock and barrel by corporate power, money and political influence, and are approaching economic and political serfdom and political irrelevancy, collective victims of Big Money.

Present robber barons in our second Gilded Age seek the same unlimited power over America and its economy and its people that the first robber barons sought, but they don’t send in aides with sacks of money anymore for deposit on the desks of those in Congress – now they send in “campaign contributions” (aka bribes) via PACs, some even through tax free shell organizations so that they can take such “contributions” as deductions from their taxes while you and I indirectly contribute by having to make up for such shortfall with our own taxes. Result? You and I are helping today’s robber barons finance our feudal future.

So what’s the difference in not having a law and having one that isn’t enforced? There is no difference, so perhaps we should agitate for repeal of the Sherman Act in order to remove the pretense that we have the protection of an anti-trust act and make the demise of Sherman official. That would make the robber barons’ lawyers and lobbyists unhappy since kicking a dead statutory horse makes for good fees, but with the effects of Dodd-Frank and tax cuts for the coddled rich still extant, they could find other things to do, and, after all, their fees are deductible from the incomes of our latter day robber barons which you and I help share with our taxes, so today’s robber barons get a break while the rest of us get the shaft.

So is the process rigged? Does the sun come up in the east? Of course!    GERALD      E

TRUMP’S ECONOMIC NONSENSE

TRUMP’S ECONOMIC NONSENSE

Trump is dismissing yesterday’s Republican electoral losses by throwing the “losers” under the bus, a classic case of ultimate bullying, i.e., kicking the losers while they are down, even fellow Republicans. He tells us that they lost because they did not fully embrace his policies. Yeah, right. Trouble is, he has no policies with his shoot from the hip idiocy, and even if he professes to have one, five minutes later it can become obsolete as he retreats from our world to his narcissistic otherworld and its intermixture of reality and fantasy.

Trump sees government through the lens of “The Apprentice,” where everything and everybody are in competition with one another and the substantive results of how and why you won are not important – only whether you “win.” Thus he is not particularly interested in the contents of his tax bill or any other bill (other than how the tax bill might add to his personal coffers); he is rather only interested in “having a win” so that he can bask in coming out on top. Example > In a speech given just hours ago in South Korea in the shadow of a belligerent atomic power, he bragged about having won his election. Given the time and place and grave environment, I can hardly think of a more inappropriate observation, but it does give us a glimpse into the mindset of an ill, ignorant and oblivious man, one who sits in the Oval Office and in his otherworld, flitting from one to the other as perceived occasion demands.

To the topic of his economic nonsense > The fact that the tax bill hurriedly passed by the House is now undergoing Senate scrutiny and that Senate tax writers have indicated they are going to write in a one-year delay in the corporate tax reduction and make a few other minor loophole changes is instructive. The Senate Republican majority is less than that in the House and if the Democrats stand together and can secure only a few Republican votes (as they did in the health care fiasco), the tax bill will fail, hence the proposed delay in the harsh House version based upon the old movie that “A little bit of sugar makes the medicine go down.”  Again, trouble is, no sugar is promised a year from now by the Senate, when we have to take our “medicine” via funding of corporate shareholders and executives.

My major motivation is writing this essay is that when Trump was throwing the Republican “losers” under the bus just hours ago he simultaneously bragged about how well the economy is doing under his leadership as demonstrated by increases in the Dow, thus equating stock market values with Wall Street assessment of future corporate performance while ignoring effects of real world austerity economics.

So hello, Mr. Trump. Answer these questions > How well is the economy doing for whom, sir? Is the economy doing well for those whose median wages (adjusted for inflation) have not moved for almost four decades as the Dow has exploded? Does it really make any difference (other than to a select few) what Wall Street thinks? Johnnie Lunch Bucket can’t eat dividends and capital gains; he and his can only eat well if their wages move in rough tandem with corporate profits (as they did from FDR to Reagan) when the middle class exploded and economic growth was in the stratosphere.

Instead Johnnie now finds his worker productivity gains not in his paychecks but hijacked to the Dow; he finds the ultimate arbiter of economic growth (aggregate demand) missing in the marketplace due to his lack of wherewithal, a result of chronic and subsisting wage inequality; he finds encouragement of monopoly (and thus lack of competitive pricing) by government rather than restrictions on mergers, acquisitions and price-fixing under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act; he finds his job underpaid but subject to outsourcing if he complains etc. etc. etc. In short, he is at the mercy of runaway greed mongers who have bought our politics, a purchase greatly at odds with whatever economic security he once had, and all the while living under the threat of corporate ownership of America and whatever is left of our democracy. Tell me how well millions of similarly-situated Americans are doing under your leadership, Mr. Trump, and without the usual imprecations aimed at Hillary and Obama.

I have blogged many times that wage inequality is our greatest domestic issue, and that unless we correct this lopsided return to favored capital over labor that aggregate demand will remain tepid and economic growth will stagnate with occasional ups and downs and recessions between and even during business cycles. Thus the argument that we currently hear that unemployment is at a low is relatively meaningless, as is the argument that median wages are nudging up, since any such miniscule increases are gobbled up by inflation.

When those working are working for peanuts, it doesn’t matter if every man, woman and child were employed. Their paychecks will barely nudge the demand meter. Those unemployment numbers now cited were old measures of economic progress when wages rose in tandem (and even sometimes) exceeded the rate of growth in corporate income from FDR to Reagan and have no application today when Wall Street has hogged all of the economy’s wealth and income (and even worker productivity). There is little left to enhance demand, and the present and temporary slight increase in demand comes primarily not from either a low in the unemployed or enhanced wage scales; it is in part attributable to an historic rise in credit card debt.

So is the Dow on the rise because corporate America is more efficient in providing goods and services for the marketplace, gains in productivity due to better automation, or the way to make a better mouse-trap via innovation in marketing techniques (see Amazon) or related activities? Not anymore.

The Dow is up lately because of the promise of “tax relief,” which will go straight to their bottom lines as a gift from ordinary American taxpayers and unrelated to their provision of goods and services. You and I are in effect funding the capital gains of shareholders and the stock options of corporate executives while being asked to pay more taxes and accept an increase of 1.5 trillion dollars in our debt our children and theirs and theirs and theirs will have to pay down the road.

So this is policy in the making designed for the common good or for the paymasters on Wall Street? You decide.     GERALD      E

MURDER IN TEXAS

I wrote the following today in response to a blog seeking commentary and repeat it here.

MURDER IN TEXAS

I see yesterday where a member of our well-regulated militia exercised his right to bear arms by mowing down worshippers in a church. The local sheriff this morning ascribes such an appalling situation to a pattern of conduct of the militiaman indicating mental illness, and in another show of mental illness, a president half a world away tells us the problem is mental illness, not gun laws, as though the two are mutually exclusive. If he wants to stick with that story, which deliberately confuses mental illness with unhampered means to kill, a classic NRA response, then perhaps he can tell us why his proposed budget cuts funding for mental illness in the face of the continuing and accelerated pace of slaughters of innocent Americans.
The idea behind the Second Amendment is found in its language on the right to bear arms as “being necessary to the security of a free state.” The horrid demonstration yesterday does not comport with such language; the victims and their families were neither secure nor free in real world terms under our current judicial language of the meaning of this Amendment. I can’t imagine that Madison and his cohorts envisioned that such as yesterday could ever have happened given what they had in mind when they laid out the language of this Amendment two years after adoption of the Constitution itself.
The Supreme Court got it right in 1939 when they found that militia meant militia, but the court abandoned such a finding later, and here we are > an NRA-sponsored society that demands licensing of beauticians and roof contractors but not terrorists and the psychotic who demand automatic weapons under the mantle of a constitutional right to bear arms which, by the way, is at odds with another constitutional right, to wit: the right to “life, liberty and property.”
Would that Madison could somehow be resurrected for a discussion among the “originalists” on the Supreme Court today as to what he and his fellow “originalists” had in mind when agreeing on the language of the Second Amendment. I am certain that it would not give license to homicidal maniacs to go into schools and churches and country music festivals to kill innocent Americans and then have politicians such as Trump pass it off as a mental health issue. Thus we have people killed by guns every day who are not deranged, like kids who find them in a drawer, people who use them in road rage situations, holdups, accidents while hunting etc. Mental health is not involved in thousands of such horrors every year, and speaking of mental illness, Trump should look in the mirror and apply the old dictum of “Physician, heal thyself.” When will this NRA-fed insanity end?

REFORM OR GIVEAWAY?

REFORM OR GIVEAWAY?

Today, November 4, 2017, I had occasion to answer a blog seeking comment on the Republican tax bill now before the House that was unveiled just 48 hours before by Speaker Ryan, an Ayn Rand devotee. I thought what I had to say might deserve larger circulation since I owe it to children both born and unborn not to add another 1.5 trillion dollars to the already monstrous debt they will be paying to further enrich today’s plutocrats in a world where there is already so much cash around that capitalists have begun to run out of places other than tech to invest. Following is such effort, slightly edited from my original commentary.

I agree that we need “tax reform” but that is not descriptive of the “tax giveaway” bill Ryan and his fellow Randists are trying to poke down our throats, made even worse with a generous sprinkling of social proposals designed to get social conservatives to support the “tax reform” bill, like, what the heck are abortion and churches and other such social engineering clauses doing in a tax bill? Let’s let them stand alone on their own merits, as should a “clean” tax bill. I would even agree with ridding ourselves of the AMT (alternative minimum tax) if such atrocities as “carried interest” and all other such gifts to the rich (see hedge and equity funds exemptions and redefinitions of ordinary income and corporate buybacks of stock etc) were removed or regulated pursuant to the public interest. I want tax reform, too, but not the Rand variety.

The noise we hear in ads on TV from “committees” bought and paid for by libertarians like the Kochs and Mercers? about reduction of corporate taxes is phony – the average effective rate paid by corporations is far beneath the present topper of some 39 percent and many Subchapter S corporations pay no tax at all with their pass through provisions. At base, and truth be told, the superrich are essentially trying to sell us on the old and discredited “trickledown” theory, you know, give the rich more money and the poor will prosper. Arithmetic and history, anyone?

I could write on the horrid details of this bill forever but will end it here for lack of space and time. Paul Krugman and Sheila (a professor whose blog I answered) are correct in their criticism of this monstrosity in the making, and it occurs to me that Ryan and his Randists have deliberately overshot the mark to leave themselves room to go for amendments, like, O.K., we will agree to take carried interest out of the bill in exchange for a reduction of the corporate tax rate, or fetuses to term or churches free to make political statements while maintaining their tax-free status or whatever Ryan & Co. may judge to keep their social conservatives in tow as a blow to Roe or tax-supported political rants from the pulpit or whatever. I note in passing that it is easy to give up carried interest, which never should have been in the bill in the first place and thus amounts to no more than amendment bait in political give and take.

As for Trump the clueless wonder, he doesn’t know or care what is in the bill – he just wants “a win” to sate his narcissistic need for adulation, especially if such a “win” would add to his coffers, as this bill would. Parenthetically, he is going to the Orient as I write this, and as I have noted elsewhere, I hope that in case he is indicted while gone that he is in a country with whom we have an extradition treaty so that he can be arrested and extradited back here for his bond hearing lest he holes up in some Russian or other embassy somewhere, as others have done in order to beat the extradition rap. Far out thinking,  Gerald? Negative – how can you get too far out with this Trumpnut on the loose?        GERALD        E

AUTOMATION: FRIEND OR FOE?

AUTOMATION: FRIEND OR FOE?

Following is my short response to a blog seeking comment on the crises likely to come with accelerating automation and how we are going to deal with them.

The blunt truth stripped of trade myths and political maneuvering is that automation destroys jobs (or at least jobs primarily those performed by humans). When Trump was running on “I’ll bring good-paying jobs back from China” I was trying to stem this obscuring of fact by citing time and again in my blogs a study which showed that 83% of the jobs he was talking about never left – that they were automated – and that the remaining 17% of the jobs that did “go to China” would, if returned, be of the repetitive sort subject to automation here upon their reappearance. I was trying to blunt his myth-making but to no avail as he narrowly prevailed in a swath of industrial states in our north who bought his blather and elected him.

I think transitions between jobs and a more robust safety net are essential in the perhaps near future if we are to avoid civil commotion and loss of social cohesion, but let’s be honest. Such attempts to meet the ravages of accelerating automation will need many more such initiatives as we redefine capitalism to include human welfare that will make past welfare schemes look medieval by contrast, as in, who owns the fruits of the new economy? Wall Street? How do we distribute the income and wealth resulting from automation? If the people have no wherewithal, what happens to aggregate demand in the marketplace? Can private enterprise survive social crises sure to come? Are “market economies” a thing of the past and, if so, how will a new marketplace assess risk, if any, in this brave new economic world? Will overproduction and underconsumption unless adjusted by government cause permanent deflation a la the Great Depression?

I can think of many more such questions, ones for which I have no answers at this time. I can only hope at this juncture that brilliant economists like Stiglitz and Piketty are giving some attention to the coming conundrum of how this mixture of automation and humans can work for humans. Right now I have only questions and no answers, but those smarter than I (and they are legion) may solve this oncoming riddle before its impact brings about human misery and social upheaval. I sure hope so.    GERALD       E

FAKE NEWS AND GOEBBELSPEAK

Today I was invited to comment on a blog having to do with fake news and propaganda. The following was my contribution.

Our concern as a practical matter should be on the results of Geobbelspeak rather than the known fact that it exists. Thus Trump, the divider in chief and within hours of the New York massacre, has politicized this horrid event with his claim that Schumer orchestrated it through an immigration bill that was passed by a bipartisan vote and signed by the elder Bush in the 1990s. That is bad enough, but consider this: That Trump’s twitter blaming Americans for what happened yesterday inferentially exonerates ISIS and tells them that they won, that we as a people are scared, and that it is all our fault. In his psychotic zeal to win adulation and authoritarian rule he is not only dividing America but is willing to surrender what really made America great, to wit: our value systems lodged in our democratic institutions.
Trashing the press and creating doubt in other such systems are merely part and parcel of his broader attempt to create (Bannon-inspired) chaos so that he can (figuratively) come in on his white horse and save the castle from ruin, thus emulating people like Putin, who Trump says is “a strong leader,” and, of course, another strong leader and master of Goebbelspeak, one who burned the Reichstag and turned criminal gangs loose on the German people, Hitler.
So now we have a new grounds for at least his impeachment – giving aid and comfort to ISIS, and thus inviting further such atrocities like the one yesterday in New York, and about the only thing he could do that is worse than collusion with Russia to undermine our democracy and set himself up for a dictatorship of “law and order”in the ensuing chaos in the streets of America. He has to go, and soon, as there are signs that our social cohesion and our democracy are approaching meltdown status from these incessant attacks on their foundations.
Am I overdoing this scenario? I hope so. I hope I am wrong. I hope that this confrontation of democracy with dictatorship is only a political confrontation that will pass in time and is not a confrontation of basic ideas upon which America was founded. If so, then, as the philosopher noted, “this, too, shall pass.” However, in case I’m right or even partly so in my evaluation of the passing scene, we need to be prepared to save our democracy from all comers both within and without at all costs. Nothing is more important than our democracy, without which, as I often write, we are nothing more than ATMs for Wall Street.

MANAFORT AND GATES

MANAFORT AND GATES

I was half-right in my prediction that Flynn and Manafort would be the first two indicted by Mueller, but Flynn’s time is coming. Apparently Mueller had a statute of limitations problem and needed to charge Manafort and Gates in timely fashion to remove such a defense. Other indictments may enjoy the luxury of time, so it may be weeks before another day like today, or not, since I cannot know as I am not privy to Mueller’s strategy in bringing recalcitrant potential defendants to the dock.

I have long maintained and still maintain that one of the keys to the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia ran through the Bank of Cyprus, a well-known money-laundering site for Putin and Russian oligarchs to launder rubles into other currencies and invest in Western assets such as real estate, one of which may have been Trump’s sale of a piece of property here in Florida to a Russian for some 80 million dollars, property for which Trump paid some 40 million dollars not long before – the initial  purchase with perhaps leveraged funds from the Bank of Cyprus (speaking of possible money laundering and tax fraud), one item perhaps in a pattern which would explain Trump’s reluctance to give us his tax returns, assuming he did not lie on his return for the year in which such known transaction occurred). If I were advising Mueller, I would tell him to have his prosecutors obtain possession of Trump’s tax returns for the last several years, study them closely and then take a trip to Cyprus to see if Trump himself is a money launderer. I am thinking of indictment of Trump under relevant provisions of the Internal Revenue Code and perhaps the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. We will then see if Trump can pardon himself.

Why my emphasis on the Bank of Cyprus connection? Well, consider this: The Bank of Cyprus was co-managed by a Russian with close ties to Putin and, guess who? Wilbur Ross, Wall Street banking magnate currently serving as Trump’s Secretary of Commerce, whose job, among others, is to enforce sanctions against foreign governments. Could that have been why Trump chose Ross for the job, i.e., to put a damper on sanctions against Russia and his own money laundering, Mr. Mueller?

You will recall that the Congress passed a sanctions bill against Russia for interfering with our elections by a veto-proof bipartisan vote after rejecting the Trump administration’s heavy lobbying for changes in the act. You will recall that the act required that sanctions be enforced by October 1, 2017. You will recall that the Trump administration did nothing until just last week when they tepidly set the machinery of enforcement of sanctions against Russia in the administrative trough of slow motion.

Why the foot-dragging? Why the delay in defending our democracy? Will this administration really enforce such sanctions or will they do so half-heartedly because of their connection with money laundering and other such activities through the Bank of Cyprus? The job of the president is not to make the law but to enforce the law in both spirit and letter, and I think that a failure to do so is a violation of a president’s constitutional oath since, after all, what good is it to have a law if you are not going to enforce it? Law is policy, Donald, not some show time or photo op that can be ignored like in The Apprentice.

So have I joined the ranks of the conspiracy theorists? Not quite. I can connect dots from known evidence and speculate that further investigation might well lead to solid evidence to support my preliminary conclusions, one of which is that the money-laundering Bank of Cyprus is key to collusion of the Trump campaign with Russia and very possibly with Trump himself, one that certainly bears further investigation.

I hope that Mr. Mueller is giving a hard look at some of the connections I have outlined here and connects the dots with admissible evidence from those in the know – and goes from there.     GERALD       E